It wasn't the most surreal moment I've had in this job, but it was right up there. It was also one of the most fun because it was so unusual and unexpected.
Last Friday about 8:05 a.m., I found myself inside the lobby of the Days Inn on Ringgold Road with about 60 Swedes listening to a guy play "Chattanooga Choo Choo" on a portable keyboard. Every 20 or 30 seconds, he would give the crowd a vocal cue, and they would "wooo-wooo," like a train whistle, in unison.
You can watch the video online here.
It was a lobby full of people with flip-flops, wet hair and fanny packs drinking coffee and noshing on doughnuts and bagels who suddenly found themselves in the middle of an impromtu concert, and they fell right into clapping and singing. It was like dropping in on an episode of "Glee" for retirees.
It was great.
Janne Lucas is a popular singing star in Sweden, and he is in America for the next two weeks traveling with the TCB Band from Sweden. The initials in this case stand for The Cadillac Band and not Taking Care of Business as Elvis used it, but they did get the name directly from Presley's drummer, DJ Fontana.
Since the band was going to be traveling from Virginia to Jackson, Tenn., and then on to Memphis for a show at the Peabody, drummer Ulf Nilsson thought they should swing through Chattanooga so that Lucas could sing one of his biggest Swedish hits in the city that gave the song its name. I was there to record the moment for history, and, no, I did not point out that we were actually in East Ridge, as that would have been rude.
I did strongly urge them to stop by the Choo Choo on their way out of town, and I hope they did. I don't think they realized how close they were to the world-famous landmark, and they seemed eager to get the caravan on the road to Jackson.
A little online research reveals that Lucas, Nilsson and TCB are well known back home, and they tell me that they play nearly every night somewhere in Sweden and around Europe. Having 60 fans travel with them to America is also not that unusual to them.
"It's what we do," Nilsson said.
"It's a circus," Lucas added with a laugh.
TCB has performed with Fontana, as well as BB Cunningham, Billy Burnett, Stan Perkins, James Burton and a slew of European and Swedish stars. They perform songs by Elvis, of course, as well as Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Ricky Nelson.
This is Lucas' first American tour, and the itinerary will take them from New York to San Francisco with concert stops along the way. As if it wasn't already one of my favorite interviews, Nilsson casually mentioned that any money the band makes on the tour will go to charities that work with autistic children.
Contact staff writer Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
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 ...