Rock 'n' rule: Several women play key roles in Chattanooga's music scene

Carla Pritchard makes the decisions for the Nightfall Series in Miller Plaza and is seen here selling T-shirts on a recent Friday night concert.

Carla Pritchard didn't set out to have a career in the music industry although, when she was younger, she dreamed of being a backup singer. Now she oversees the Nightfall summer music series, a job she's held since its inception in 1992.

Monica Maples Kinsey never saw music being a part of her work either, but today she's owner and general manager of Track 29 and the Revelry Room.

Nor did thoughts of a music career enter the minds of Mary Howard Ade and Amelia Rodgers-Jones. Ade is the new music marketing director for the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau. For Rodgers-Jones, the co-founder of Chattanooga Girls Rock!, a weeklong summer music camp for girls, her involvement in music is more as a volunteer side gig.

Christie Burns, on the other hand, has known since her middle teens - shortly after her father put the kibosh on her dreams of being a hot-air balloonist - that music would dominate her life in some way. She moved to Chattanooga in 2007 as part of the ArtsMove program, which tries to lure artists of all stripes by offering incentives such as discounted housing through grants.

Soon after coming here, she helped start the Folk School of Chattanooga and was its first executive director. She also teaches music and was instrumental in bringing part of the Dosti Music Project, which features musicians from India, Pakistan and the United States, to town this past spring.

"Everything I do is related to music," Burns says.

All five of the women are part of the city's growing music scene and will likely play a big role in its future. A casual study of the musical landscape in Chattanooga today reveals that many of the people calling the musical shots are women. In fact, it could be argued that women represent the majority of the decision-makers in the local music scene.

* Musician Laura Walker now oversees the Folk School of Chattanooga.

* Cindy Pinion has co-produced the Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival for 26 years and also books additional concerts throughout the year.

* Pat Hookey has produced Ringgold's Gospel Jubilee, which features more than 180 gospel acts, for 18 years.

* Samantha Teter heads the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, which is conducted by Kayoko Dan, who is both the symphony's youngest conductor ever and first female in the role.

Further down the line, the assistants for both Pritchard and Kinsey are female.

"There are so many women doing things in the music industry in some shape or form here," says Kinsey. "They are trying to help our local scene and bringing different acts in, and this has all happened kind of under the radar. I don't think people realize that this has happened."

How these particular women got to their various places is no different than how many people land on careers or find something that impacts lives and communities. Simply put, they found something they love - in this case music - and found ways to involve it in their lives.

"The arts are a reflection of our culture," says Rodgers-Jones, "and it also can have a strong influence on our culture. I just think it's the perfect way to reach people on a deep level."

None of the five planned early in their lives to be doing what they are doing today, though Burns likely comes the closest to having plotted a career course.

"I always knew music would be a part of it, but I thought it would be in academia. Teaching, maybe," she says. "I knew I wanted to travel and study music and be involved with music projects, and that's what I'm doing now."

And all took different journeys to get here.

Carla Pritchard

In 1986, Pritchard, now 51, got her degree in public relations from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, not because PR was her dream career but because "I thought, 'I can do this.'

"I didn't know where it would take me. I had visions that it would be in some big corporation or at a nonprofit."

In her senior year at UTC, her degree path took her to an internship with Chattanooga Downtown Alliance. Within a few weeks, key people at the organization left or shifted positions and her unpaid gig turned into a paid position in charge of handling special events that promoted downtown and its businesses. Downtown Chattanooga at the time was a ghost town after 5 p.m. and Pritchard's timing helped her get in on the ground floor in the revitalization of her hometown.

As part of that internship/job, she produced the Downtown Block Party featuring Charlie Daniels, her first taste producing a musical event. She later took a job at Allied Arts (now ArtsBuild) and, in 1991, heard about a new organization called Chattanooga Downtown Partnership, which was being formed to produce events to draw people downtown. Pritchard reasoned that music would be the best draw.

"Everyone can relate to music, and that was viewed as the easy approach to animating downtown," she says.

She booked entertainment at Miller Plaza and in front of the newly-opened Tennessee Aquarium. Her goal was not only to bring life and people downtown but to introduce them to something new such as world music, zydeco or traditional folk and country music. Through Nightfall, she brought acts such as Buckwheat Zydeco, acoustic bluesman Keb' Mo', British guitarist Richard Thompson, Americana singer/songwriters Lucinda Williams and Todd Snider, alt.bluegrass band Nickel Creek, critically acclaimed rockers NRBQ and world music artist Angelique Kidjo to town for the first time.

"It was more of a pioneer effort to bring some positive attention to an area that needed it, which was our downtown at the time," Pritchard says. "We wanted to bring people back to downtown to rediscover that it is safe, but the other piece of it - at least the part that that I wanted anyway - was to broaden the scene here and promote the arts in a particular way."

Almost 25 years later, through Chattanooga Downtown Partnership and now her own company, Chattanooga Presents, she has produced Nightfall and several other major downtown events like the Grande Illumination, 3 Sisters Festival, Ice on the Landing, RiverRocks, Appalachian Christmas and Pops on the River. Many have musical components.

"The city has finally embraced [music]," she says. "It's finally being identified as something the city can identify with as a whole."

photo Mary Howard Ade attends the Noontunes concert at Miller Plaza Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Ade is the new music marketing director for the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Mary Howard Ade

For decades, the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau has focused on promoting the city's beautiful outdoors and tourist attractions like the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Tennessee Aquarium, Rock City and Ruby Falls.

A year ago, Ade, 31, was hired as the CVB's first music marketing director. After getting her degree in English and Spanish from Auburn University, she figured she'd end up teaching. But she started her career in business administration in New York City then moved to marketing, landing a job in the business department at Spin, the music-oriented magazine in New York.

A self-professed lifelong music lover, her hobby of making musical playlists and sharing them with co-workers earned her a reputation in the office for keeping up with what was both good and cool. She was charged with updating the music people heard while on hold on office phones; people who called in often would ask about what they'd just heard. That led to her consulting on song selections for videos created by media company Cause & Effect Productions.

She moved to event planning but wanted to get back into something that involved music. She says she wishes she had been told years ago that "you could make a living in the arts."

At the CVB, Ade has spent the first year watching and learning what Chattanooga has to offer visitors to the city, musically speaking. She says she found a city full of talented musicians and a growing support system eager to make the scene better. In the past year, she's compiled a large database that lists musicians, venues, festivals, concert series and nightclubs, using it in marketing materials to let people outside the city know what's going on.

And she believes the city is at the beginning of a renaissance.

"There are some extremely talented people who are out there hustling," she says. "It will be fun to see who becomes the next household name."

photo Monica Kinsey is the owner and general manager of the Revelry Room and Track 29 music venues.

Monica Maples Kinsey

Arguably at the forefront of Chattanooga's musical push forward has been Track 29. The 1,700-seat venue on the Chattanooga Choo Choo campus opened about five years ago in a former ice skating rink. Almost immediately, it altered the long-held perception that Chattanoogans wouldn't buy high-dollar tickets for new musical acts or that fans would not buy tickets in advance. A 2011 Avett Brothers show sold out in 27 seconds, for example.

In just the first couple of years, Track 29 hosted nearly two dozen sold-out shows, as well as big-name newer acts such as Jack White, Modest Mouse, M. Ward and Neutral Milk Hotel. Pollstar rated Track 29 the third most-popular venue in the Southeast and 78th in the world in its second year.

The 1,600-seat venue was the idea of Monica and husband, Adam, who was named president of the Choo Choo less than two years ago. The two have always traveled to concerts and festivals and began wondering why Chattanooga couldn't get some of the acts they were seeing at events like the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn.

But even while they were traveling to other cities and venues, researching how to convert the old ice skating rink into a first-class music venue, it was never her intention to run it. At the time of their research, Kinsey, now 42, was working in marketing for the CraftWorks restaurant group so, as far as Track 29 was concerned, she imagined her role would be to connect the right people, then go to the shows.

"Selfishly and unapologetically, we just wanted more music right here in our hometown," she says.

But after original partner and Track 29 General Manager Josh McManus left to pursue interests elsewhere and Adam Kinsey's workload increased at the Choo Choo, which is owned and managed by Kinsey Probasco Hays (former Chattanooga mayor Jon Kinsey is Adam's father), she found herself making the decisions regarding Track 29. Before she knew it, she was the general manager.

"Adam and I were kind of tag-teaming it, doing our day jobs and then Track at night," she says. "I don't remember the exact day [her role as GM] became official or anything," she says.

She is also the general manager of the 500-seat Revelry Room and Hush Lounge at the Choo Choo, both of which opened earlier this year. Live music and event planning "have always been in my DNA, I guess," Kinsey says, but she's had to learn the business side of dealing with promoters, agents and bands. For example, when both parties agree on things like the band's fee or how money from ticket sales or concessions will be split, it doesn't always mean that's what the final transaction will be.

"It's constantly negotiating with someone about something," she says.

photo Musician and music teacher Christie Burns plays a hammered dulcimer in the garden of the Jefferson Heights neighborhood in Southside.

Christie Burns

Burns, 36, was born in New Jersey and got her undergraduate degree in ethno-musicology from UCLA. She earned her master's in folk studies at Western Kentucky University.

She readily admits to copping an "anti-commercial" attitude toward making music when she was younger and determined that her life was not going to be about making money. It was going to be about traveling the world, making music and sharing the experience with as many people as she could.

And she was going to do it her way. Her mindset was: "No, I'm not going to make money and that is fine, but I am going to make music and friends, and that is very satisfying to me.

"Maybe that's why I jumped onboard with the sort of DIY attitude," she now says.

Burns says she loves Chattanooga and is committed to making it a better place but, even though she's older, she's still determined to do things her way. It wasn't until recently that she gave much thought to the idea of being a woman in the predominately-male music world.

"You mean as opposed to being something else?" she asks.

But a friend who drove six hours alone to attend a music festival out west encountered another woman there who seemed shocked that she, Burns' friend, would brave such a thing.

"Maybe what holds some women back is actually the attitudes of some other women or some made-up narrative that you're supposed to follow," Burns says. "I've chucked all of that out the window. I don't feel like I need to be married or have a full-time job or have children. None of that is my focus."

After a moment of thought, she adds that, while she typically says "yes" to every request to get involved, she occasionally has to "give myself a pep talk when it's like, 'Eh, do I really need to do this?'

"And what it is [tipping the scale] is some imaginary little girl who might see me and catch a little bit of inspiration, something in me that wants to pass it on to the little girls." she explains. "I'm happy to pass it on to anybody, but especially the little girls. I could be someone that they look up to or could see themselves in my shoes. That matters to me."

Amelia Rodgers-Jones

Rodgers-Jones, 30, attended Girls Preparatory School then Sarah Lawrence College in New York before leaving to go to Argentina and finally landing in Portland, Ore., where she spent 10 years doing a variety of jobs, including volunteering with social justice and LGBT organizations. She also spent a year at Portland State University.

It was there that she learned about the city's Girls Rock! program.

photo Liric Johnson, Kai Viland, Aydin Ryan-Davis, Hannelorre Vickers and Ariel Hollingsworth, seated on drums, from left, appear in a publicity photo for the Chattanooga Girls Rock Camp. Viland will be attending the camp, which targets girls ages 9 to 17.

"Whatever formula they had really took off," she says. "They use music to encourage and empower girls and teach them to not be afraid to be loud."

After discovering the program, she knew she wanted to eventually get involved in something similar somewhere else and, after moving back to Chattanooga last year, where she got a job as a cheesemaker with Sequatchie Cove Creamery, she began working on starting on a Girls Rock! program here.

Last month, 29 girls ages nine to 17 spent a week at the first Chattanooga Girls Rock! Over the week, the girls learned to play an instrument - most of which were donated or loaned - and to write songs. At the end of the week, they performed those songs on a Saturday afternoon in Revelry Room.

"It was a truly great event with a great energy," says Burns, who attended the concert.

Rodgers-Jones wants the Girls Rock! organization to focus on reaching young girls because of the role music played in her adolescence.

"For me, in high school, the way that I was able to exist in this environment that was very structured, but also very conservative, was through music," she says. "I found escape and a way to understand myself.

"Music is powerful, especially to an adolescent. It helps them begin to interpret their lives and their world."

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.