There are 12 good reasons to see Stars of Chattanooga tonight, and almost all of them are under 18 years old.
Stars is a collection of young artists, predominantly hip-hop, who united through Listen Up!, a program launched a couple of years ago by the Prevention and Youth Development Services division of the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department. According to its mission statement, Listen Up! is designed to "empower inner city youth to become leaders with character, vision and action in their communities."
For the members of Stars, that means using their music to communicate positive messages to other youth, who have increasingly seen violence encroach upon their lives.
Those less familiar with the genre might think of hip-hop as solely promoting a lifestyle that perpetuates some of the problems inner-city youth face, but in Chattanooga, the Stars are using the familiar sounds to speak out against gangs, domestic violence and bullying in a way that is more likely to resonate with their peers than an adult standing at a lectern.
Despite their relative youth, performing at Riverbend Sunday night and the Bessie Smith Strut tonight will hardly be the first rodeo for most of these artists. Although the Strut offers a chance to play to a much larger crowd than the Swaggbotz duo would normally, this won't even be the most high-profile gig for cousins Isaiah Brown, 16, aka Mr. Comic, and Dermario Harris, 18, aka Mr. ENT.
I met Swaggbotz (it stands for Strong, Wise, Accomplished, Genuine Gentlemen ... botz) in late 2011 just after they returned from performing in Washington, D.C. at a fundraiser attended by Stevie Wonder. As part of the artist development agency they're signed to, they've also performed in London and at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York City. They're two exceptionally nice guys and, like the other members of Stars, are clearly motivated by a desire to make a difference.
They and the other Stars members get to perform two songs each tonight, and they'll undoubtedly have copies of their recently recorded 13-track CD available for you to pick up.
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.