No. 1 with a bullet – and brunch


Photo above: Sarah Goodpaster and Jason Reed

Because of changes in the economics of touring, it’s been some time since the No. 1 band in America played a live show in the Tri-Cities. The venues built to house such shows are not viable in today’s marketplace. In fact, in a recent documentary, a tour manager who has been working since the 1970s looked back with nostalgia on the days when he could book moneymaking gigs, “playing Johnson City, Tennessee.”

But a couple of young professionals in Bristol and Johnson City have found a way to make it happen. Wild Wing Café in downtown Johnson City and the Bristol Broadcasting Co., radio station known as 99.3 the X have been bringing top touring rock bands into the Tri-Cities to play shows during the brunch and lunch hours on weekdays. They did it in August and again in October.

Sarah Goodpaster is promotions manager at Wild Wing Café. Jason Reed is program director at 99.3 the X. What they’re doing is the kind of idea that sets the region apart – in a good way – with the young professionals whom economic developers say they want raising families here. The idea that one can have lunch downtown while the band that has the No. 1 song in America performs in the same room is pretty cool.

Frontman Luke Spiller and the Struts performs at WIld Wing Cafe in Johnson City Oct. 16. Photos by Scott Robertson

In Reed’s case, it was a question of maximizing the impact of having these bands pass through the area. Take the Aug. 22 event in which the group called Portugal, the Man played a brunch show. Portugal, the Man at the time had the top selling single in America, a catchy little ditty called “Feel it still.” The band was already scheduled to play a venue called The Orange Peel in Asheville the next night. Now, record labels tend to offer radio stations along their bands’ tour routes a chance to have the bands in studio, talking with the D.J.s and playing acoustic versions of their hits, so getting the bands into the Tri-Cities isn’t a problem. Getting those bands onstage, however, is a different matter.

The Orange Peel, like many other venues, reportedly protects itself from bands overbooking themselves by having a 100-mile limit. No band that plays their venue can play another paying gig within 100 miles. This keeps a band from playing a $30-a-ticket show in Johnson City the night before they are scheduled to play a $40-a-ticket show at The Orange Peel. It’s sound business, but it keeps a lot of great acts from playing the Tri-Cities.

Reed, however, went to Goodpaster with the idea of a free show – not a paying gig – that would bring music fans to her restaurant while making better use of the band than just having the members sit in the studio talking with a D.J. The record labels have been eager to go along.

“This is a free show. There’s no ticket sales involved,” Reed explains. “So the show doesn’t take away from The Orange Peel. When you go to The Orange Peel, you’re going to see The Struts or Portugal, the Man play a full set. Here, they play three or four songs in an acoustic setting.” It’s what the band would be doing in studio, only they do it for a live audience that also buys brunch or lunch.

It’s good for the station. It’s good for the restaurant. It’s good for the band. But it’s great for economic developers and business recruiters trying to bring young families here to grow the region’s economy.

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