About five years ago, maybe more, we got a new music venue in town, Track 29. Located in a building that used to house a hockey rink at the far end of a hotel complex, Track 29 revolutionized Chattanooga's music scene. Almost immediately, Track 29 began to attract a caliber of national artist who previously might not have considered a stop in our city.
Track 29 is a quality operation: thorough, impeccable security, a lock-tight ticketing system which prevents scalping and ticket reselling, an adjustable stage which can make the space intimate, if necessary, sprawling, if necessary, seated, if necessary.
My only beef with Track 29 is that I didn't get tickets for Jack White, even though I pulled over while driving in East Ridge and hit the "Purchase" button on my phone at the exact second those tix went on sale.
No, I've seen any number of great shows at Track 29--Steve Earle, Trombone Shorty, Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, Drive-By Truckers (briefly), Sufjan Stevens' Christmas Show, among others.
So, look out, because here comes the heresy: I much, much, much prefer seeing shows at Rhythm And Brews, the tiny venue that used to draw most of the top talent that would come to Chattanooga (barring, of course, the larger acts that would play the stiff settings of the Tivoli or Memorial Auditorium).
People criticize Rhythm And Brews as being oddly-shaped, a music venue that was too wide and not deep enough, maybe some issues with sound, tight quarters, etc. Not for me. I was there the other night for a Chris Knight show, and I was reminded immediately how much I have missed it.
There is no security at Rhythm And Brews. You show your printed out ticket voucher, your ID for beer, and you are in. Some shows have tables, some don't, and, depending on when you arrive, you might get a good spot, you might have to go to the balcony, you might be jammed in on the main floor, you may get pushed off to the side. Bathrooms are close and easy. You can get food. You have a waitress. You don't have to wait a long time at the bar.
I've seen any number of great shows at Rhythm And Brews--Steve Forbert, Richie Havens, Drive By Truckers, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Son Volt three times, Justin Townes Earle, Dinosaur Jr., Jake Shimabukuro, Chris Knight, and many others, as well as a bunch of local acts and tribute bands.
I know I should prefer the larger, more professional venue and the music that it has afforded us, but I don't. I like the little hometown hole-in-the-wall, warts and all. It hasn't changed. It hasn't improved. It has less of a chance than ever of bringing in quality acts on a regular basis.
Still, for years, it was the only game in town and we thrilled with the offerings it provided us. But now, for most of us, it is under the radar. It is rare that an artist on tour that we hoped to see will set up shop there.
But I love the evening it allows--meeting friends at the Big River, enjoying drinks and/or a meal before walking easily to the other side of the building, maybe heading in early to put a coat down and reserve a table, maybe just taking a chance on a show we don't know much about because we know the setting, at least, will be accommodating, and that makes us more inclined to give the music a chance.