Bessie Smith Strut advanced ticket sales slow

Authored By Mary Barnett

Buy strut tickets

-Area Kangaroo Expresses

-Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd.

-Champy’s, 526 E. M.L. King Blvd.

-Mary’s Lounge, 212 McCallie Ave.

-Maggie G’s, 400 E. M.L. King Blvd.

-JJ’s Bohemia, 231 E. M.L. King Blvd.

-Roshanna’s Hair & Beauty Bar, 320 E. M.L. King Blvd.

 –Online

After June 9, tickets will go from $5 to $10.

Many things may have changed since last year’s Bessie Smith Strut, but one thing that seems to be the same is the last-minute buying habits of the concert- and event-going public in Chattanooga.

Tickets for the previously free event went on sale Monday, May 21, but many of the outlets selling the $5 printed tickets said sales have been surprisingly slow.

Approximately 3,000 individual tickets were distributed to area Kangaroo Expresses and a handful of neighborhood businesses, officials said.

Leticia Curtis is the manager at the Kangaroo Express at 1005 Hixson Pike, one of many area Kangaroo locations where Riverbend pins and strut tickets are sold. Although Curtis said the store has sold plenty of pins, she has yet to sell one ticket to the strut.

“No one has even mentioned [the tickets]. We have a sign on the door, and people with pins still are asking if they have to pay extra for the strut, so I think there is a bit of confusion out there as well,” she said.

Riverbend patrons with pins do not need a ticket to attend the strut.

Several businesses in the neighborhood of the strut are also selling tickets, but Edward Balton Jr., owner of Maggie G’s on M.L. King Boulevard, said less than 20 tickets have been sold through his store.

“I would have thought I would have sold more by now. It’s hard to say. It’s been free for so long, you’re going to get some negative response,” Balton said.

Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken restaurant has done a little better. Owner Seth Champion said they have sold almost all of their allocated 100 tickets.

We’ve sold at least three-quarters of those,” he said.

Mike Grover with the Moore and Shallowford Road Kangaroo Expresses said they learned after last year’s Riverbend pin sales that most of the public, 78 percent in fact, wait until the very last week to get a pin, so it’s hard to tell what slow sales for strut tickets could mean at this point.

Friends of the Festival Executive Director Chip Baker said Grover is right and that it is a frustrating truth for local event managers and promoters.

“Chattanooga is a buffet town and a last-minute town. People want a lot, and they only want to pay a little for it, and they wait till the last minute to buy it,” Baker said.

As of Wednesday morning, a quick Nooga.com Facebook poll indicated a majority of respondents planning to use their Riverbend pins and not purchase a strut ticket. 

Those planning to attend without a pin will have to pay $10 at the gate or $5 if a ticket is purchased before Saturday. 

Proceeds from direct ticket sales are intended to cover the cost of producing the event and sustaining it for future years, but if the majority of attendees use Riverbend pins this year, less funds will be raised for the strut, according to Rose Martin, executive director of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, which is now in charge of the event. 

Martin said online sales through the event’s new website have picked up over the past few days and that she anticipates a further increase on Friday and Saturday.

“But I have nothing to compare it to. So I don’t really know how to call it. I’m not worried about it,” Martin said.

Although it can be nerve-wracking, Baker said he would expect there to be a bit of a parallel with local buying habits for strut tickets this year, especially since the paid admission is new to the public.

The admission fees are one of several new “enhancements” to the annual blues street festival on M.L. King Boulevard, including restricting entering the event to four designated gates and temporarily fencing the entire event to improve security.

After learning that the other ticket outlets were not doing as well, Champion, who has already sold out of all of the reserved seating on his patio for the night of the strut, said he wasn’t too worried.

“We’re expecting a huge turnout, just like every year. It will be fantastic. It will be one of the best and biggest struts ever. I think the people are really going to come out and support the strut,” he said. 

Of course, no one will know for sure until Monday when the gates open at 4 p.m. Martin said through the use of different colored wristbands, they will easily be able to count how many pins versus tickets were used for admission this year.

“Then we will really have to evaluate the most effective model for sustainability. This year, there wasn’t a lot of time. This year was just ‘save-the-event mode,'” she said.

Updated @ 2:47 p.m. on 06/06/12 for clarity.