This story was updated Wednesday, August 5, 2020, at 7 p.m. with more information.
The final notes will ring out Aug. 15 at Songbirds Guitar Museum, as well as at its sister live music venues Songbirds North and South, as the brick and mortar aspects of the three-year-old facility at the Chattanooga Choo Choo closes its doors for good.
President and Songbirds Foundation Chairman of the Board Johnny Smith said the closing is the result of lost revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic and because the organization's lease is up in October.
The Songbirds Foundation will continue, he said. Dedicated to teaching guitar to area youth, especially in low-income areas, it recently announced it will have an increased presence teaching guitar in area middle schools and in the music therapy department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"Songbirds LLC is getting out of the museum and venue business," Smith said.
"We will keep the name because it is just too good of a brand, and we will focus on the work of the foundation. They've figured out how to make this work in this current world. They are actually thriving, thanks to videos and teaching, in a virtual world."
The closing comes as the coronavirus pandemic has shut down most entertainment venues across the nation.
"The COVID virus has hurt all of us," Smith said.
"We just haven't gotten the numbers of people in that we need. We need people in the museum, and we need people at shows. Plus, the acts can't work. It's not safe for them to travel and play in front of large gatherings, and large gatherings are our main source of revenue."
Smith said the announcement is especially painful for him.
"I know what this means to this town," he said. "We feel like the shows and the guitars are unique, and we felt like we've built something special."
The closing will affect almost 30 full- and part-time employees, he said.
"I just feel so bad for the people who work here," Smith said.
The museum, which opened in 2017, houses the world's largest collection of rare and vintage guitars. After it opened, organizers more or less stumbled onto the idea of presenting live music and later events such as luncheons and wedding parties in the space.
When the larger Revelry Room venue closed in 2018, Songbirds took over that as well, adding Songbirds North and Songbirds South to its footprint. Mike Dougher booked shows in both spaces and said Chattanooga is losing a unique live music venue.
"This is very difficult," Dougher said, "closing such a wonderful business, but there was really nothing to be done. It sure was a fun ride, though. We really had no intention of running concerts all the time in the museum at the beginning.
"I brought in the legendary Dick Dale, followed by Tommy Emmanuel, mainly to showcase great guitarists within the walls of an amazing guitar museum. We then realized customers enjoyed what we were doing so I started booking more. My goal for Songbirds North was to become one of the top small venues in the country, and I believe we accomplished that goal.
"Songbirds South came along, so we expanded our concert lineup to accommodate larger crowds. I hate that we have to stop in the middle of building the Songbirds brand, but I understand."
Smith said anybody who bought tickets or memberships to the museum will have their money refunded.
"We want to make it right for them and for the bands as best as we can," he said. "It's just very sad. We are not a victim any more than anyone else. The problem is people haven't felt capable of getting out."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.