Chattanooga is home to a good mix of concert venues, but sometimes, you’ve got to get out of town for a night-especially if an artist you’d like to see live isn’t visiting the Scenic City.
Local venues such as the Tivoli Theatre, Revelry Room and Barking Legs Theater are all great places to witness live music. Our own JJ’s Bohemia-a tiny, divey room that any midsize city would envy-was named one of the top 100 live music venues by Consequence of Sound. Other concert spaces offer something for everyone. Charles and Myrtle’s Coffeehouse, Wayne-O-Rama, and The Camp House, to name a few, are under-the-radar venues.
Chattanooga’s close proximity to major music cities is both a blessing and a curse. We’re located on what would seem to be the perfect tour stop for bands/artists as they plan their Southern tours, but we’re also competing with established music cities for those dates. It’s beginning to get better, but still, many bands don’t take a chance on Chattanooga because our scene is still relatively foreign. Why would you visit Chattanooga when you can stop in Atlanta, Knoxville or Nashville? For the bands that are taking a chance on Chattanooga, our gratitude is appreciated and, in some cases, rewarded with return shows. For example, do you think The Flaming Lips would be playing Riverbend this year if it weren’t for their sold-out show at Track 29 a few years ago? I don’t think so.
My love for Chattanooga has a tolerance limit. I need to get out of town sometimes, and the best excuse is a midweek concert in an adjacent city. I’d like to share some of my favorite concert venues within two hours of Chattanooga for this week’s column. Take a look at the list. Am I missing something? Where are your favorite regional venues to see a concert?
Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave., Atlanta
One of my favorite venues in the South recently got a major facelift. Variety Playhouse in the Little Five Points area of the city is special because it feels like you are attending a concert in an old movie theater. Essentially, you are. The Variety Playhouse is the former Ellis Cinema, which offered some of the best acoustics and sightlines of any venue I’ve been to. Fortunately, the new changes are just cosmetic and practical upgrades to make the user experience better. Carpeting has been replaced with concrete, the bar is expanded, and the pit has been adjusted to accommodate more people who want to stand during select shows. Some of my favorite concert experiences have taken place inside Variety Playhouse. Get a cheap room at The Highland Inn for the night, walk/Uber down to the Ponce City Market, and head over to Little Five Points for a preshow drink. Click here for more information.
The Mill & Mine, 227 W. Depot Ave., Knoxville
This week, I visited Knoxville’s newest venue near the Old City district. The Mill & Mine is everything that Track 29 wanted to be. The venue is entirely open, with a similar feel to rooms like Cannery Ballroom in Nashville and The Grey Eagle in Asheville. I think I prefer Knoxville’s Mill & Mine for several reasons. First, the sound is incredible. The venue was obviously designed with the concert experience in mind. But my favorite aspect of the venue is the outside patio and lawn area. You can sit outside and eat tacos and then just walk into the side of the venue and up to the stage. The Mill & Mine is slightly smaller than Track 29, but the open design makes the room feel spacious, large and inviting. If I had to choose a venue to see my favorite band, The Mill & Mine would be at the top of my list. The venue is also just a few steps away from eateries in Market Square, Gay Street and the Old City.
Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns, 1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville
As far as bucket list venues are concerned, our region is home to one of the strangest. Deep inside Cumberland Caverns near McMinnville, hundreds of people can gather in a large, natural amphitheater 333 feet underground. The venue is home to “Bluegrass Underground,” a monthly concert series and PBS show, as well as incredible one-off concerts from artists such as Widespread Panic and Conor Oberst. Upcoming shows include The Revelers, Larry Stephenson Band and Peter Rowan Band. Bluegrass sounds beautiful in the cave, folks. And although there isn’t a lot to do around the cave-it’s off the road a bit-you can spend the night in a cabin at Fall Creek Falls State Park. Click here for more information.
Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St. NW, Atlanta
I haven’t been to the posh new Terminal West-which some are considering one of the best venues in Atlanta-but the Tabernacle will always be a special place for me. A former Baptist church, the venue is a tiered wonder of sound. I’ve sat in the top balcony-as far back as possible-and I’ve been right on the front row, but wherever I found myself, the sound was pristine. Unlike the Ryman Auditorium, the Tabernacle feels less sacred and reverent, which helps me enjoy a show more. One of my favorite aspects of the venue is the climb to the top. The venue is four stories high and takes up an entire block. It’s one of the prettiest venues you’ll visit. Check out a virtual tour here. For major acts, the Tabernacle is always my choice. Click here for an upcoming schedule.
Bijou Theatre, 803 South Gay St., Knoxville
Like the Variety Playhouse, Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre is a small theater offering an intimate concert experience. The Bijou is located just up the street from the ornate Tennessee Theatre. The Bijou and Variety often share similar schedules, but I’ll take a drive to Knoxville any day over dealing with Atlanta traffic. The venue opened in 1909 and was praised by The New York Times as “one of the best-sounding rooms” in the country. I’ve seen loud rock shows and solo acoustic performers at the Bijou, and both were equally enjoyable. Before the show, I like to eat at Nama Sushi Bar nearby. Many artists who perform during the Big Ears Festival revisit Knoxville for full shows at the Bijou. That means the lineup can get rather eclectic, with jazz, avant rock and ambient music you won’t hear anywhere else. The quality of artists visiting Knoxville is incredible. Click here for more information.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.