published Friday, August 31st, 2012

Track 29's first-year success is a music-scene game changer

Singer Matisyahu walks on the hands of audience members during his performance at Track 29. The venue on the Chattanooga Choo Choo campus celebrates its first anniversary Saturday.
Singer Matisyahu walks on the hands of audience members during his performance at Track 29. The venue on the Chattanooga Choo Choo campus celebrates its first anniversary Saturday.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

7: Number of sold-out shows.

64: Number of shows in its first year.

70: Rank on Pollstar's Top 100 Club Venues in the world (based on ticket sales).

130: The target number of shows per year by year five.

900: Average attendance per show.

1,700: Crowd capacity.

22,000: Square footage.

Source: Adam Kinsey, Track 29 co-owner

In a year's time, Track 29, the 1,700-seat concert venue at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, has managed to crack Pollstar's Top 100 Club Venues (No. 70) in the world, based on ticket sales.

With 64 concerts averaging 900 ticket buyers at each show, co-owners Adam and Monica Kinsey said the club has exceeded their hopes for its first year.

While those numbers are tangible proof of its early success, others say Track 29 has also upped the city's "cool" factor and introduced locals and out-of-towners to other venues and attractions here.

"It's a world-class venue, and it also enables us to start to build Chattanooga as a destination," said Ashley Capps, owner of AC Entertainment in Knoxville.

AC books all of the national touring acts at Track 29, in addition to presenting concerts around the country. It also co-presents the annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn.

As proof of Track 29's hip factor, many point to sold-out shows by such acts as The Avett Brothers and Jack White, who chose to begin his first-ever solo tour and debut songs from his first solo album, "Blunderbuss," there. Both of those shows drew fans from across the country and beyond, Kinsey said.

"We've been in Rolling Stone (magazine) twice, and it was for those shows," Kinsey said. "That's good for Track 29 and for Chattanooga."

Combined with the venue's aggressive use of social media to promote shows and attract fans, the attention has put Chattanooga on some regional music lovers' radars, maybe for the first time, according to Mike Dougher, owner of Rhythm & Brews on Market Street. And the more people who recognize the city as a destination for music, the more the whole community benefits, he said.

"It brings more eyeballs to the city," he said. "They get hotel rooms, and they eat. It's good for the city. Everybody benefits."

Chattanooga Presents marketing and media director Jonathan Susman agreed.

"Overall, [Track 29] has helped all ... venues," said Susman, drummer in local rock trio Glowing Bordis, which performed at Track 29 during the venue's first local music showcase last September.

"It's the rising tide lifts all boats [theory]," he continued. "If you look at a music scene as a whole, you need smaller, medium, large and larger venues to create a full music scene."

Having a venue of Track 29's size that can serve alcohol helps make Chattanooga more attractive to artists who might otherwise dismiss it as a midtour pit stop between larger, more viable markets, Susman said.

"The minute they came in, they started bringing in a level of acts to Chattanooga who were coming before but only on a sporadic basis," he said. "It's basically taken Chattanooga, which has been a tertiary market for so long in the music world, and turned it into a viable stop for bands to come in and play and draw a crowd."

Track 29 is by far not the only venue in town presenting quality music shows, but its size and the way the facility functions is unique. In capacity, it falls between a few clubs that can accommodate no more than 400 people and the Tivoli Theatre, which seats just under 1,800. Located inside an old skating rink, Track 29 is an open space, and most shows are standing only, which allows fans to get close to the stage and also find space to move around.

"We are part club and part venue," said Monica Kinsey, who also serves as the venue's general manager. "The Choo Choo still uses the space for conventions also."

Adam Kinsey and former partner Josh McManus had a custom-built stage made that can be moved to accommodate smaller crowds to keep the space from feeling empty. The lighting and sound system also were custom built.

The two spent two years developing the concept and traveling the country talking to musicians, agents, promoters, club owners and fans to learn what worked and what didn't.

They spent a lot of time focusing on the backstage area, which has showers and a laundry area in addition to office space for band managers and green rooms.

"We knew we had to take care of the bands first or they wouldn't come back," Kinsey said.

His wife said she wishes the backstage area was bigger because bands like to hang out there.

"We've had guys taking two and three showers because they could," she said. "They love it."

Capps said that approach has paid off and that he gets positive feedback from the bands.

"That's extremely important," he said. "People often don't realize how challenging it is to be on tour. It's a grinding process, and to be able to eat a decent meal and do laundry makes it a better experience. They want to go back, and they tell other artists about it."

The venue has not gone unnoticed by local acts. T.J. Greever, 33, Susman's bandmate in Glowing Bordis and a longtime Chattanooga musician, said Track 29's early local music showcases and specialty shows helped local artists achieve levels of visibility that were impossible before.

Besides offering "cutting-edge" stage equipment to play on, Track 29 treats local artists with the same respect as touring artists, Greever said. That, he said, changes how artists perceive themselves and the seriousness with which they approach their shows.

"That's definitely a game changer for local bands that haven't had that opportunity to be introduced to that level of production at a venue," he said.

The Kinseys said they would have more local acts play Track 29, but the numbers just don't work yet.

"If an act can't fill up JJ's [Bohemia, under-100 capacity], or Rhythm & Brews [350 capacity], they aren't going to fill us up," Monica said. Any event has to be staffed with security guards, bartenders, stage and support crew, she said. "We are a business. It has to make sense financially."

Kinsey said he and his wife are constantly evaluating ways to improve. They've learned from successes like the Jack White show and challenges like the ones they faced in their opening week.

On opening night, two patrons became rowdy and fought with police. Later, the club was accused of censoring an artist after pulling the plug on Corey Smith's show a few days later as he began his closing number, a song called "F--- the PoPo."

"It's part of our history," Monica said. "We learned from it and moved on."

Smith returns to the club Sept. 14.

Adam Kinsey said plans for the future include a few tweaks to the building and gradually increasing the number of shows annually to 130 by year five.

Capps, who helped develop the music scenes in Knoxville and Asheville, N.C., offered some advice.

"It's a long process," he said. "We've been booking in Asheville for 20 years. It took continual perseverance. The other key component was the audiences came out to the shows. They are very supportive, but that takes time.

"Chattanooga has become a very hip, forward-thinking community, so all of the factors are in place to continue to grow in terms of arts and culture."

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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