The Sons of Bluegrass’ “MoonPie Jingle” isn’t the first song to pay homage to Chattanooga Bakery’s chocolate-and-marshmallow snack. In 1951, country singer Bill Lister had a minor hit with “Give Me an RC Cola and a MoonPie.” Florida jazz-rockers NRBQ had similar success rearranging the song, which appeared in 1973 as the B-side to the band’s “C’mon if You’re Comin’” single. From 1976 to 1980, NRBQ also hosted a MoonPie Festival in Hartford, Conn.
Watch out RC Cola; there’s another competitor for the MoonPie’s affection.
It might lack the fizzy sweetness of the cookie’s traditional snacktime companion, but “The MoonPie Jingle” by The Sons of Bluegrass has proven so popular recently that Chattanooga Bakery is trumpeting its partnership with the band as promoters of its staple product.
“We’re sending signage and MoonPies ahead of them so they can animate the jingle onstage by throwing out MoonPies and whatnot,” says Tory Johnston, Chattanooga Bakery’s vice president of marketing.
“We have people singing the jingle all around the country, and they’ve got people chasing down their tour bus asking for MoonPies. It seems like it’s working for both of us.”
Sons of Bluegrass bassist Chris Armstrong wrote the jingle, which lasts just over a minute, in mid-May, a couple of weeks after the band established a marketing relationship with Chattanooga Bakery.
The Sons of Bluegrass are a quintet of current enrollees and recent graduates of East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies program, which offered the world’s first four-year degree in the genre when it was introduced in 2010. The distinction of being the only academically bonafide group on the market has been a boon on the touring circuit, says Armstrong, who joined the program in 2011 and is three semesters shy of graduating.
“The program gives us credibility and makes it easier for us to bring this music to the masses,” he says.
Despite being ETSU students, The Sons of Bluegrass maintain a touring schedule that is just as demanding as that of many full-time — if not degree-bearing — professional groups.
Last year, the band received an Arts Build Communities grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission, was featured on BluegrassToday.com and was named a Championship Bluegrass Band at the Fiddler’s Grove Festival in North Carolina.
Seeds of the partnership with Chattanooga Bakery, however, were planted this spring in the checkout line of a Cracker Barrel.
On the road to a show in Dayton, Ohio, the band stopped at the restaurant to grab a dinner that — for once — wasn’t delivered in a sack through a drive-through window. While waiting to be seated, Armstrong bought a box of MoonPies, one of his favorite childhood snacks. Later, as he sat in the tour van, he says, he realized the marshmallow cookie was an ideal match for the band’s traditional sound.
“There’s been a long-standing relationship with bluegrass music and comfort food,” Armstrong says, citing examples such as Martha White flour, which has supported the Grand Ole Opry and various bluegrass and country artists since the 1950s.
“The first thing that popped into my mind was, ‘This would be the perfect pairing. They’re from Tennessee, and everybody loves them. How can you not like this chocolate/marshmallow little thing?’”
Armstrong reached out to Chattanooga Bakery about a potential partnership. The bakery, which previously has sponsored acts such as Carrie Hassler and Jimmie Van Zant, appreciated Sons of Bluegrass’ packed touring schedule and youth — all its members are between 21 and 37 — and agreed to send along boxes of MoonPies and signage to the band’s shows.
“It’s a very efficient way for us to market and to stay relevant with our core, the Southeastern base of country- and bluegrass-listening consumers,” Johnston explains. “We’re not giving a MoonPie to everybody, but we’re definitely being generous.
“That’s the cheapest way for us to advertise: to get our product in people’s mouths.”
In mid-May, a few weeks into the partnership, Armstrong penned a MoonPie-themed jingle to help further integrate the brand into the band’s performances. The same day he wrote the piece, the band recorded it at its small studio on a mountain above the Nolichucky River near Erwin, Tenn., and sent it to Chattanooga Bakery.
When he received the demo, Johnston says, he immediately knew The Sons of Bluegrass was serious about the partnership. In the past, other sponsored groups discussed the idea of writing a jingle, but none actually followed through.
“They packaged it up real nice and showed it to us, so we were like, ‘We love it. Let’s roll,’” Johnston says. “They wrote it in a way that makes it really easy to sing along back to them by audiences and is easy to remember. It just worked.”
As it turned out, Armstrong says, the reception to the partnership hasn’t just been enthusiastic but borderline manic. Bluegrass fans, as it turns out, are rabid fans of snack cookies, especially when they’re being given away.
The band sings “The MoonPie Jingle” at every show, and while the audience enjoys singing along, what they seem to love even more is the free MoonPie Mini the band offers them after the show.
“It’s like a stampede,” Armstrong says, laughing. “We’re trying to work up the perfect way to hand them out, but it’s hard.
“When you see grown men come up with a Walmart bag to fill up with MoonPies to take home with them, it’s like, ‘Gosh, how do we deal with this?’”
Johnstons says the bakery hasn’t been keeping close tabs on the number of MoonPies it has sent along with the band, which will travel close to 13,000 miles this summer, but the number is definitely in the thousands.
The band admits to handing out at least a case — 144 pies — at every show, but Johnston assumes “not an insignificant amount” of the MoonPies are eaten by the band. But that’s OK, he says, because “[a MoonPie] is good road-warrior food.”
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...