Hear the music
Make Music Chattanooga is being held Tuesday, June 21 from noon to 9 p.m. across downtown Chattanooga venues and street corners. The festival needs volunteers as well as performers and venues. For more information, visit makemusicday.org/Chattanooga.
Swing. Jazz. Rock. Pop.
Acoustic. Instrumental. A cappella.
I was 15, in France, and surrounded by the sounds of people making music.
But this wasn't a Bonnaroo-style musical festival designed the way Millennial Americans have come to expect, with flowered headbands and crazy campsites.
This was something much different: the French ode to music, to summertime — to life. It was passion on every corner and in each storefront; passion flowing from the performers to the passersby, and back, in a continuous loop.
As my cousins and I listened to a local rock group cover famous French artist Johnny Hallyday's hit Gabrielle, I suddenly found myself being spun out of the dance circle and onto the stage, while my companions shouted to the singer that I was, in fact, Gabrielle.
It was a whirlwind of music, dancing and citywide gaiety. It was la Fête de la Musique.
And now, thanks to a push by passionate locals, a French-style fête is headed to Chattanooga.
Launched in 1982, la Fête de la Musique, a one-day, international music festival, has grown rapidly in popularity, making its way from Europe to the U.S. and beyond. More than 700 cities in 120 countries now participate.
Its charm is contagious. The shows are all free, the venues have all volunteered, and anyone, no matter their level of recognition, is invited to play.
Pay it back
Since artists are donating their time and talent to Make Music Day, be sure to bring cash to tip the performers.
In other words, the rolling music festival was the perfect stage for Chattanooga artists searching for more connections and more musical opportunities, says Taryn Balwinski, who is spearheading efforts for the local festival, titled Make Music Chattanooga.
"When I was first researching it I found a video of a guy riding through town on his motorcycle filming it in France, and it was like changing a radio station on every street corner," she says. "It was just so amazing to see. I knew we needed something like that here."
Though Make Music first entered the United States 10 years ago by way of New York City, the festival, which always takes place on the summer solstice (June 21 this year), is still not widely known across the South.
However, Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau Music Marketing Manager Mary Howard Ade, a Chattanooga native who spent time working in New York, was familiar with the festival and had already reached out to the American organizers there. When Balwinski reached out with the same idea in mind, the New York organizers put her in touch with Ade.
From there, the project snowballed.
"There have been a lot of yeses and it's been busy," Balwinski says with a laugh. "I actually expected it to be harder to convince people, but instead it's been more coordinating these people who are all excited to get involved."
Within a few weeks she had secured more than 30 artists, as well as notable businesses and public performance spaces such as Miller Plaza, Bessie Smith Hall, Granfalloon, Carmike Majestic 12, even the Downtown Public Library. In the future, she assures, Make Music Day will likely expand beyond downtown and the Southside, where it will be concentrated this year. "Some cities have 100 or more [performers]," she says. "I'd love to see us get there one day."
Such a vision is one that SoundCorps Executive Director Stratton Tingle loves to hear. His nonprofit, which launched last year, was formed to be a liaison between the music business community and Chattanooga artists, who were concerned that the city's growth was leaving them out.
"Make Music Day also helps just connect the community at large with the music community," Tingle says. "A lot of local businesses try to support the local music scene and don't know how, so this is a great way to do that. Not only does it increase traffic at your business — and generally the happiness of your employees at your business — but it also makes new connections."
While SoundCorps typically focuses on connecting artists with events and venues to help them make a profit with their art, says Tingle, Make Music Chattanooga provides an opportunity for artists to gain exposure.
Check it out
The Tennessee Pavilion will also serve as the Music Merch Mall, where all performers can sell shirts, CDs or anything else to represent the bands.
"Traditionally, in the growth of the life of a musician, busking [street performances] is something you do at an adolescent level," he explains. "You practice and hone your skill, then maybe you do some open mic nights, and maybe then some street performances. Then, when people graduate and go to local stages and out of town, they don't often regularly go back and play on the streets. Either life is busy or it doesn't pay enough.
"But the interesting thing about Make Music Day is we've seen a bunch of people who do perform regularly and have recognition sign up and want that connection with audiences that you only get with improvisational tactics on the street. Those are tactics that help them when they're on the bigger stages."
It's an opportunity that Tingle, who does vocals for local group Prophets & Kings, is looking forward to himself. In addition to working with Balwinski to help her connect with interested artists, he is also performing.
"There's a specific audience at JJ's at 1 a.m. that I'm fully comfortable with, but getting that audience on the corner by the library isn't one that I'm as used to," he says. "So I'm looking forward to that."
Whatever Make Music Chattanooga ends up being for the community, Balwinski says she just wants to facilitate musical growth across the city. Giving artists and venues exposure to the community at large, and vice versa, Make Music Day is, ideally, a catalyst for growth in all corners.
"That's the other side of what Make Music Day is really about, and that SoundCorps really jumps on board with, is the idea that Chattanooga is a great music town," Tingle agrees. "Having more performers out in public or in private business is showcasing the huge wealth of talent here. It's really in line with our [SoundCorps] objective to help Chattanooga own the idea, own the brand, of our city as a great music town."