It’s not hard to get “in the mood” in Chattanooga for Valentine’s weekend. Just come to the Tivoli Theater and you’ll start to feel it. And don’t forget your dancing shoes. In retrospect, I wish I’d had mine.
One of Chattanooga’s favorite Valentine’s weekend events is the Big Band Fever show at the Tivoli Theater. The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera’s Big Band puts on a fun show full of swing dancing, big band tunes and lots of energy and hand-clapping. In fact, it’s such a popular event in town that they put on two shows: one on Friday and one on Saturday.
If you aren’t familiar with big band music, a traditional “big band” ensemble has at least 10 musicians with trumpets, trombones, saxophones, drums, double bass and piano. Big band music itself is very upbeat, jazzy and catchy; it became popular in the 1930s and 1940s with the Swing Era. If you’ve heard Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong’s music, then you’ve heard big band.
Big Band Fever has been a part of the Chattanooga Valentine’s weekend for 15 years. Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt said they kept asking to do it year after year, and no one has gotten tired of it yet. It’s an annual night out for many families and couples that want to hear some great toe-tapping music and maybe even make a run in their dancing shoes. I heard the couple sitting behind me say this was their third year attending, and others said it was their family tradition.
I’ll be honest, I thought I would be the youngest person in the Tivoli, but that was far from the case. There were families with young kids, 20-something couples, empty nesters, grandparents and everything in between. Jazz music isn’t just popular among the older generations. Chattanoogans really embrace the musical culture.
This year’s Big Band Fever guest artist was trumpeter and vocalist Byron Stripling. He played with two of the show’s three sets and blew the audience away with his talent, humor and charisma. Selections throughout the night included “In the Mood,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Manteca,” “Hello Dolly,” “Minnie the Moocher” and many more. Toward the end, Stripling even shared a special tribute to Louis Armstrong with a beautiful performance of “What a Wonderful World.”
Perhaps my favorite part of the night was watching attendees dance the night away on the stage to the music being played right beside them. Every generation was represented on stage, from fathers dancing with their young daughters, to grandparents and retirees reliving their youth through swing dancing. Several pairs looked like they were trained ballroom dancers, either from their younger days or from local ballroom dance studios. For those less experienced, the theater offered free swing dance lessons before the show so everyone could join the fun on stage.
And of course, no big band concert in Chattanooga–or any concert in Chattanooga, for that matter–is complete without a playing of the classic 1941 hit, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” I might have been one of a few in the audience that didn’t know any of the words to it. Note to self: learn the words for next year.
The concert closed with Stripling’s own arrangement of “When the Saints go Marchin’ In.” I know I wasn’t the only one who hoped for an encore, but to our dismay, there was none. But I can assure y’all that every single person left the Tivoli Theater feeling the Big Band Fever, and we know the only cure is to come back again next year.
And next year, I’ll be up there swing dancing, too.