Drew and Ellie Holcomb return to town this month for a concert, this time at the Tivoli Theatre rather than the much smaller Walker Theatre — which seems like as good a reason as any to talk about the Moon River Festival.
For those who don't know, Drew Holcomb co-founded Moon River six years ago, but the festival's first three years were spent in Memphis. Held in September, this will be its third year in Chattanooga, and if it follows past years, the lineup will be announced this month. And organizers will sell all 11,000 tickets within hours.
As we start a new decade, few things illustrate a changing Chattanooga music scene as much as Moon River. It shows how far we've come, and it is very much a part of the story of how we got here.
Few would argue that the live music scene in Chattanooga is much better today than it was a decade ago. It's nowhere near perfect, but it is better, with more shows featuring bigger name acts at venues such as the Tivoli and Walker theaters, Songbirds and The Signal.
While many things have meshed together over the last decade to get us to where we are, I firmly believe Track 29 — the former large-scale venue at the Choo Choo — deserves much of the credit for helping provide the spark and paving the way. It proved that we could get a Jack White or a Marilyn Manson, and that we could sell out shows, and that we could do so ahead of time without the walk-up crowds we were known for.
The good and the bad news, however, is that it did so with about 40-45% of the ticket buyers coming from out of town.
The good news in that is that people started coming from a couple of hundred miles around to Chattanooga to have dinner, see a show and maybe stay in a local hotel. While here, they explored and found Chattanooga to be a cool place to hang out and maybe even live. (The same is true of the many outdoor events we hold, but we're talking music here.)
The negative, perhaps, is that Chattanoogans by themselves are not turning out in numbers large enough to support what we have. This is evidenced by the dwindling crowds at businesses near the river, but that's another topic for another day.
The Holcombs and the Moon River Festival are the result of what Track 29 started in many ways. First, the Holcombs want to be here. They like Chattanooga. They like Coolidge Park, and they like the vibe the river setting provides for their event. That festival could have gone to just about any city in the state.
Track offered a 1,700-seat concert venue, and along with it came a greater presence from AC Entertainment, co-founders of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. That relationship and the success of Track 29 led to them being contracted by the recently formed Tivoli Foundation, which has turned the Tivoli, Memorial and Walker theaters into revenue-producing venues.
Holcomb reached out to AC when he realized running a growing festival like Moon River was beyond his skill set and time, so it really isn't too difficult to draw a line from Track 29 to Moon River.
But AC has been booking shows here for more than three decades, and the city's growing crescendo isn't the result of them suddenly getting smarter over the last decade. Timing is everything and lots of things have fallen into place to help explain how a festival like Moon River can find such success in a park where a ticketed/gated event had never been held before.
It has raised the bar on so many levels by proving that higher-ticketed events featuring current acts can work here, and by showcasing just about everything good and cool that the city has to offer if we would just pay attention.
Live shows in February
Mitch Rossell Band with Fairview Union: Feb. 1, Songbirds South
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Feb. 6, Walker Theatre
Lauren Alaina: Feb. 7, The Signal
Tinsley Ellis Album Release Show: Feb. 8, Songbirds North
LVNDR and No Pressure: Feb. 8, Songbirds South
Mat Kearney: Feb. 11, Walker Theatre
Drew & Ellie Holcomb: Feb. 12, Tivoli Theatre
The Wood Brothers: Feb. 13, Walker Theatre
Space Jesus: Feb. 13, The Signal
The Kentucky Headhunters with The Georgia Thunderbolts: Feb. 14, Songbirds South
An Evening with Mike Farris: Feb. 15, Songbirds North
Blue Man Group - Speechless: Feb. 17-18, Tivoli Theatre
Ana Popovic: Feb. 20, Songbirds North
Gordon Lightfoot: Feb. 22, Tivoli Theatre
Eric Gales: Feb. 22, Songbirds North
Walk Off the Earth: Feb. 24, Walker Theatre
The Motet: Feb. 26, Songbirds South
Doyle Bramhall II: Feb. 27, Songbirds North
Sister Hazel: Feb. 27, The Signal