This story was originally published in the April/May 2013 Issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
This May evening is enhanced by a golden sunset, balmy temperatures and the hum of quiet conversation as the crowd at ℹ️ Miller Plaza waits for the first outdoor musical performance of the season. ℹ️ Nightfall 2013 has come. With a free Friday night show every weekend throughout the summer, it’s a serial event Chattanogans look forward to attending. Easy, comfortable, frugal and entertaining. Could it be any better?
That’s a question the crew at Chattanooga Presents! asks themselves, deliberately, with every new season. It’s their job- how to make better entertainment, and create community in the process. And, it doesn’t stop with Nightfall.
Often people come to us and ask, “How can we make it better?” says Carla Pritchard, owner and president of Chattanooga Presents!, an event and performance production company in its third year. Now, even nonprofits may retain the company’s skills to jazz up a stale fundraiser or to produce something entirely new.
The company is made up of Pritchard along with Ann Ball and Johnathan Susman. Their connections run deep, having produced events over the years that have become community highlights.
“We were fortunate to have a few signature events left from the Chattanooga Downtown Partnership,” says Ball, event producer. In addition to Nightfall, ℹ️ The Grand Illumination, an annual holiday lights event and the 3-Sisters Bluegrass Festival on the riverfront, are among the more popular activities. “We were glad to have those under our belt before we were presented with RiverRocks.” The company will produce the third annual RiverRocks 10-day outdoor festival this fall.
Pritchard and Ball were previously with the Downtown Partnership, which was an organization created to enliven the city center, back when the ℹ️ Tennessee Aquarium was first built.
“There just wasn’t anything down there, says Pritchard. “We started Nightfall with the intention of drawing people back to the downtown and giving it a sense of community.”
Chattanooga Presents! recently produced Taste, the annual Kidney Foundation party that had formerly been a luncheon event called Taste of Chattanooga. It was, according to the Foundation’s Jennifer McGlohan, a huge success, raising much needed revenue so the Foundation could continue their efforts to help those affected by kidney disease.
“They helped us with several logistical responsibilities, which allowed us to focus on our mission to provide help and information to those affected by kidney disease,” says McGlohan. “Chattanooga Presents! developed the layout and flow of the event, which worked much better than last year.”
Music tourism has grown in the South and it changes from year to year. Susman who is marketing coordinator for Chattanooga Presents! also is the founder of the Chattanooga Music Council. A native of Chattanooga, Susman worked in music industry in Nashville before coming back to his hometown. The council was instrumental in bringing Scenic City Roots to town. The show recently took place at the popular venue, Track 29. “It’s nice to have people to work with that will go a bit out of their comfort zone to try something new,” says Susman.
Recently the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) made a special request of the company. There was a successful 22-year-old traditional jazz festival in Chattanooga that was about to be orphaned. Owners Mike and Astrid Griffin were retiring and there was no one step in and take over. The CVB didn’t want to lose such a phenomenally popular event, although few in Chattanooga had heard of the festival, the intrepid staff of Chattanooga Presents! agreed to take it on.
“The patrons are extremely loyal to it,” remarks Pritchard, wide-eyed. “We get e-mails thanking us and reminding us to put them at the Jelly Roll Martin table where they’ve always sat.” They plan to expand the festival by adding days, different types of jazz and other venues to the schedule. Typically held at the Choo-Choo, they will brand it in a fresh way and make it more locally inclusive, too.
The broad range of events generated in the city may seem to stretch the talents and resources of the small business, but like most small businesses, this company relies on partnerships and strong relationships with a variety of organizations. Pritchard, Ball and Susman work closely with foundations, professional groups and sports and arts committees to orchestrate a colorful variety of events, blending cultural activities into Chattanooga’s manufacturing and technology spheres. “The cultural scene must jive with the industrial scene,” says Susman, thoughtfully.
They are currently planning website coordination for the upcoming Spark Festival, a clustering of arts activities happening at various places around town, and including for the first time, the bi-annual Southern Lit Celebration, once known as the Fellowship of Southern Writers’ Conference. Spark also includes the ℹ️ 4 Bridges Festival for the visual arts, held at Finely Stadium.
At summers’ end RiverRocks, funded by Mike and Stormy McGauley, will include a big block party, near the new climbing wall, arranged by Chattanooga Presents!. There will still be all the favorite competitions-and don’t forget the hot air balloons. It is celebration of the outdoor life that Chattanoogans enjoy and are agreeable to share with the world.
Aside from everything else on the horizon for the company, they are moving to new offices this spring. Pritchard and her husband Ken purchased The Clearstory building on Main Street in 2008 and have redesigned and refurbished the inside to house Chattanooga Presents! during phase one of the project. They expect to include retail and residential opportunities in the 30,000-square-foot former warehouse eventually.
“We are excited about the growth in our company and entertainment for the city,” says Pritchard. “And, we’re happy to be a part of the energy on Main Street.”
Visit www.chattanoogapresents.com for more information.
Photography by Brad Cansler and courtesy of Chattanooga Presents!