Chatter Chip Baker is a true friend of festivals

Chatter Chip Baker is a true friend of festivals

September 1st, 2017 by Interview by Jennifer Bardoner | Photo by Doug Strickland in Chatter

Chip Baker poses for a portrait in the Times Free Press studio on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Name: Chip Baker

Age: 59 Hometown: Alliance, Ohio

Occupation: Friends of the Festival executive director

The walls of Chip Baker's office — like the contacts list in his phone — are crowded with celebrities and other notable people. There's the personally signed image of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. And then there's the time Baker shared breakfast with Samuel L. Jackson chatting about something as routine as golf, which is commemorated in the photo gallery on his cellphone.

As the executive director of local event management company Friends of the Festival, Baker has definitely met some interesting people in his life. Many would go to interesting lengths to meet just one from that long list, whether for the chance to quote "Pulp Fiction" to the Bible-quoting hitman himself or tell country heartthrob Harry Connick Jr. "I love you." Yes, as the man behind the scenes of some of Chattanooga's biggest festivals and events, Baker seems to lead an exciting life, but those A-list anecdotes are just a means to an end. It's the relationships — big and small — Baker lives for.

Those relationships are about to pay off for Chattanoogans in the form of a new festival called US 101 CountryFest, featuring homegrown star Kane Brown and Walker McGuire at the Northwest Georgia Amphitheatre in Ringgold Sept. 2. And while a country music fest in Catoosa County seems natural, Baker's role in the local scene wasn't always so assured.

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Tickets to CountryFest are $20. To learn more and purchase tickets, visit

Chip Baker poses for a portrait in the Times Free Press studio on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Chip Baker poses for a portrait in the...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

» I wanted to join the Air Force; that was Plan A.

» My parents said, "You want to be a pilot? You're going to have to make some money to do it." So I worked in the hospital kitchen. I got paid every two weeks and I put that money into flying lessons.

» I got my pilot's license in high school. Guys were coming back from Vietnam at that time. They said, "You can't fly unless you have 20/20 vision."

» Plan B was to go into medicine. My dad was a doctor and my mom was a nurse. I was a biology major in college.

» I still wasn't sure if that was what I wanted to do, so I got my master's in hospital administration. I really enjoyed it but didn't realize you had to move so much.

» In the hospital business you move every five years.

» I was running Children's Hospital [at Erlanger] and I did air shows with the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds.

» I was really into the air shows because not only did they benefit the hospital, but I've always been fascinated by aviation.

» I was actually being recruited to Austin, Texas, when the Riverbend opportunity came up.

» It doesn't matter if you're doing an air show, music festival, food festival; they're all events.

» I'm not a music person by training; I'm a business person. An event is all about revenues and expenditures. You've got to make money to stay in business.

» As it relates to Riverbend, our economic impact on the community is $29.6 million per year.

» People think it's a cool job, and it is. I bring people together through the power of events. It's about making the community a better place to be. The music is just part of it. It's really the people you meet.

» This year with Riverbend was our 36th year, and we've been doing Riverfront Nights now for 11 years. We also work with the city on overseeing the 35 events down on the waterfront.

» Most everything we've done has been Tennessee-based: Chattanooga; Hamilton County. This is a new venture for us.

» Country is huge in this area. Then you get someone as major a country radio station as US101 and it just makes a lot of sense.

» It's something we [Friends of the Festival and US101 parent company iHeart Radio] talked about for about year and a half. [Catoosa County] has got a really beautiful amphitheater that's not really used that much. It seemed like a natural opportunity.

» We've already hit our budget numbers and I'm sure we will exceed those. Capacity is about 2,700. We expect to be sold out.

» What I enjoy most about my job is when everyone works well together, and that's what we're doing.