On Monday night, hundreds of patrons packed Martin Luther King Boulevard for the annual Bessie Smith Strut. 

Despite some criticism in past years after officials implemented a cover charge for the event, which had been free to the public, attendees and vendors said the spirit of the strut remains strong for the most part. 

Here's what they had to say. 

Travis Holmes, owner of Travis Chicago Style, has been coming to the strut for decades. (Photo: Staff)

Vendor: Travis Holmes, Travis Chicago Style

Where are you from?

Birmingham, Alabama.

How did you hear about this event?

I’ve been here 29 years at the Bessie Smith Strut. I’ve been here a long time. I found out about it through other vendors.

Have you noticed a difference in the crowd since the addition of the $10 entry fee?

The effect of those charges of $10—it’s cut the patronage down probably half.

Why do you come here?

Because the people treat me so well here. Everybody—the customers, the museum, everybody—they treat me like royalty. I made the front page of the paper here about 12 years ago. I love it here.

How is this event stacking up for your business?

We’re doing very well. The people here know us. I’ve been here a long time.

What have people been buying the most?

They’ve been buying more hamburgers here tonight.


Chattanooga resident Mattie Kirk encouraged people to get out, enjoy the strut and dance. (Photo: Staff)

Strut attendee: Mattie Kirk, Chattanooga

What’s the reason you’re here tonight?

Just to see the Bessie Smith. I haven’t been here in five or six years. So I decided to come down here and see what’s going on.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen tonight?

Everybody being happy walking up and down the street.

How long have you been coming to Riverbend?

I’ve been at Riverbend every night this week so far. I used to work nights, so I couldn’t come. This is the first time I’ve been in five or six years.

What are you looking most forward to?

Just having fun and enjoying being out.

Do you think there’s anything that could be improved?

I don’t think so. I think it’s nice like it is.

Do you have any tips for people coming to Riverbend or the Bessie Smith Strut?

Just come down here and have fun. Join everybody that’s walking around and [having] fun too. Dance as you need to. Just have fun.

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She is also currently attending UTC, where she is the news editor for the school newspaper, The University Echo. Alina is also the Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville.