There are two signature music events that take place in Chattanooga each summer.
One of them is a two-week long festival where deep-fried foods are served on sticks and light beer reigns and hordes of sweaty people bump into one another as they slowly make their way up and down portapotty-lined streets next to Chattanooga’s waterfront, listening to thick country tunes and scratchy vocals of past-their-prime classic rock singers, which blare out over the speakers.
The other is a free of charge summer-long, breath-of-fresh-air music series that happens every Friday night in downtown Chattanooga’s tree-covered Miller Park, where groovy and soulful, up-and-coming (and established) musical acts take to the rustic wooden stage, and young children play in the nearby fountains as their parents and other members of the audience become tastefully tipsy and dance the warm, summer night away.
Not to discount the former’s overall positive influence on the city, but it’s the latter’s grassroots character and fun, relaxed atmosphere, which makes it one of the best aspects of summer in Chattanooga.
Started in 1988, the Nightfall Summer Music Series has been proudly offering the Chattanooga community a vibrant hub for music and culture for 27 years. Over this nearly three decade period, a wide range of talent has graced the unassuming stage of Miller Plaza. From Loudon Wainwright III, with his smooth folk-inspired sounds and impressively creative and comedic lyrics, to the venerable Alison Kraus, with her sultry old-timey siren's voice, to the lovable band from Canada, the Barenaked Ladies, to the renowned Béla Fleck and his unrivaled banjo-playing ability, to the raw blues of the Black Keys, to JJ Grey and Mofro, whose swampy Florida funk brings to mind backyard BBQ’s where alligator is the meat of choice. Not to mention countless other acts that fill out a wide spectrum of musical genres—Nightfall has seen it all.
Nightfall 2015 will be no different, with a solid lineup of class acts set to take to the stage this summer. The series kicks off on May 1 with John and Jacob—a five-part group of Alabama boys who've been making it big in Britain in recent months. From there on out, it will be a healthy and diverse mix of honky tonk blues from the Dusty 45's, big-city indie pop sounds from San Fermin, funky-jazz-rap from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and much more.
On July 10, Chattanooga native Ryan Oyer and his band will perform for their hometown crowd. Oyer earned the opportunity to play after winning the annual Road to Nightfall competition—another endearing aspect of the series that promotes and fosters local talent by pitting around 30 Chattanooga-based bands against one another in a sequence of friendly knock-out competitions.
Following this, it's more of the same—you know, award-winning musicians who've made appearances on famous stages and sets such as NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concerts or Austin's SXSW stages or Tennessee's Bonaroo festival—all performing for free in the heart of downtown Chattanooga's inviting Miller Park. The series comes to a close on September 4 with UTC Night, when the local university kicks off the end of summer and beginning of the school year with student bands, football ticket giveaways, and more.
The spirit of Nightfall is one that cultivates and embraces a diverse mix of culture. From the eclectic musical offerings to the wide variety of families and college students and leather-clad motorcyclists all tapping their feet in the crowd, Nightfall has been a mainstay in Chattanooga for years, and it continues to serve up an incredibly communal experience. And on any given summer Friday night from 7-10:00 pm, there's simply no better place to be than in the lively crowd at Nightfall.