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Southern cities make music for meetings

Music played at conventions, conferences or meetings, whether corporate or organizational, adds a soothing touch to the work at hand and inspires everyone’s best efforts. Music can be artfully blended into any meeting’s arrival event, general session, breakout, ceremony or meal time.

Music is also a part of the off-hours when meeting attendees hit the town to experience its nightlife. Convention and visitors bureaus help planners hook up with the venues and people that can bring music to life for visitors.

CVBs located in the South also use the region’s music to help make an ordinary meeting a hit.


Jackson, Mississippi

Some say that Jackson, Mississippi, has a lot of soul; and they may be onto something.

“Jackson has a strong history involving the blues,” said Yolanda Clay-Moore, public relations manager at the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It rose up out of people’s struggles. It was a way for them to re-create themselves and to feel better. Today, Jackson is the only place where you can catch the blues and also chase them away.”

Meeting attendees can experience Jackson’s numerous musical treasures. Take historic Farish Street, for example. That music district — and home of many of the city’s 50 or so nightclubs, “juke joints” and restaurants — offers live music nightly. Some of the clubs sport colorful names like The Penquin, Hal & Mal’s and Underground 119. Delicious soul food is often dished up to hungry customers.

Meeting planners can check in advance the performance schedules for live entertainment at several venues in Jackson. One is the Mississippi Coliseum, which seats 6,500 and another 3,500 for concerts. There’s also the Jackson Convention Complex, which can accommodate any meeting’s musical desires. Add to that Thalia Mara Hall, the municipal auditorium, which seats 2,400 and is located in the downtown arts and cultural district. Finally, Duling Hall, part of Fondren Church in Jackson, is the site for popular concerts that are open to the public.

Planners sometimes schedule their meetings around Jackson’s annual Rhythm & Blues Festival held in August. This two-day event offers five musical stages going full-blast day and night.

“We have plenty of musical talent in Mississippi, especially in Jackson. You can’t fall short in that area,” said Clay-Moore.


Knoxville, Tennessee

In Knoxville, Tennessee, meeting attendees just might end up at a local radio station watching a live concert. WDVX-FM is a community-supported radio station located right in Knoxville’s visitors center. Its stage, dubbed the Blue Plate Special, is the scene of a live musical performance Monday through Saturday at noon.

“We often utilize it with groups that are in town for conventions,” said Jennifer Morris, senior director of sales and services for Visit Knoxville, the local CVB. “The musicians play right in front of them on a live radio show being streamed around the world. There’s a DJ who interviews the musicians during the show. It’s really neat.”

Knoxville has three distinct music districts that attract meeting attendees year-round. The first is the Market Square District, with venues like the Square Room and its intimate stage that draws musical acts from around town, the region, the nation and even the world.

The second area is the Gay Street District. Gay Street is the principal thoroughfare in the heart of downtown Knoxville. It includes the historic Tennessee Theatre, which showcases music of every stripe, plus films, dance, drama and more. A short distance away in the same district is the equally historic Bijou Theatre, where visitors can experience community musicians from jazz artists to choral groups.

The third Knoxville music neighborhood is the Old City District, which is a formerly vice-ridden part of town known as the Bowery. It was remarkably revitalized and redeveloped with some unique clubs, bars and restaurants.

“They have some really neat venues there for musical acts, such as Boyd’s Jig and Reel, a very popular spot,” said Morris. “Knoxville is one of those small-sized markets that went through a revitalization that hasn’t yet stopped.”

Visit Knoxville, said Morris, will also help bring the music to the meeting.

“Tennessee is rich with musical talent,” she said. “I recall us recently hosting an opening reception for a meeting that included a three-piece bluegrass band that was a lot of fun.”


Athens, Georgia

Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia, also has an active music scene.

“It’s pretty easy to find musicians here, and a lot of people like to incorporate them into their meetings,” said Kelli McCain, sales manager for the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We work with people who handle talent bookings.”

The Classic Center, in the heart of historic downtown Athens’ shopping, dining and entertainment district, combines modern convention space with restored historic structures and can handle 6,000 attendees.

“There’s an attached 2,000-plus-seat performing arts theater, and when large conventions and conferences come, we plan ahead and think of musical groups that would appeal to those coming to that meeting,” said McCain.

One popular after-hours activity with meeting attendees is mini pub crawls and food tours. They allow people to experience Athens’ local music, dining and home-brewed beers.

Athens has birthed a lot of original music over the years, including alternative rock and new wave. Some of the big-name bands to rise out of the college town include R.E.M., the B-52s and Drive-By Truckers, an alternative country/Southern rock band.

There are also big-name musical acts appearing in concert at the University of Georgia’s mammoth football facility, Sanford Stadium.


Columbia, South Carolina

If meeting attendees want to be energized and inspired, a Southern choir may do the trick. The Benedict College Gospel Choir, based in Columbia, South Carolina, has been rated the No. 1 collegiate choir in the country. It is a popular attraction at meetings and events of all kinds. Its passionate sound might just set the right tone for people coming together to settle important matters.

“The CVB’s sales team works hard to appease meeting planners, so if there’s special music, a band or other talent they want at their gathering, we work to make their vision happen,” said Kim Jamieson, director of communications for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center is a meeting venue where musicians often play. The Colonial Life Arena next door is also a choice for attendees who might want to see a big-name act appear in a sizable venue. It is the largest arena in South Carolina, with 18,000 seats. Meeting planners can reserve blocks of seats in advance for certain shows if the concert corresponds with the dates for the meeting.

Congaree Vista is a refurbished area of Columbia along the Congaree River with a shopping, restaurant and entertainment district housed in old warehouses and train stations along Gervais Street. New Brooklyn Tavern is a popular music hall in what locals call the Vista, and its diverse lineup of musical acts is certain to entertain a discriminating group of meeting attendees. “There’s something for everyone in Columbia,” said Jamieson.

Being a proper Southern city, Columbia features plenty of country and bluegrass music to tap your toes or dance to.

“But we have a great jazz scene, too,” said Jamieson. “If you come to Columbia and are looking for a certain genre of music, it’s available to you. Our CVB sales staff will point you in the right direction.”


Fayetteville, Arkansas

Like many communities around the country, Fayetteville, Arkansas, has been trying to help local businesses first.

“Fayetteville has a movement to ‘Support Local,’ whether it is music, food or art,” said Hazel Hernandez, convention services manager for the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau. “One of the great things about Fayetteville is that it has wonderful talent with many local musicians. We want to make sure conference planners know about all of the music venues here.”

Fayetteville is home to the University of Arkansas and a major college town, so things get lively on football game days and almost every other weekend. The main entertainment districts are in the downtown area and on historic Dickson Street. Meeting attendees can visit places like George’s Majestic Lounge, which opened in 1927 and is one of the longest-operating live music clubs in Arkansas, or the Smoke & Barrel, which also specializes in live music with local flavor. One of the most popular local bluegrass bands playing in town is called 3 Penny Acre.

The Arkansas Music Pavilion, known locally as the Amp, keeps things lively and often has top national musical acts performing on its stage. Hernandez has encouraged meeting attendees to visit these spots in their off-hours and to also drop in on the many festivals, also full of music, that take place year-round. First Thursday is a popular street event held on Fayetteville’s town square from April through October.

“If you ever need assistance regarding booking a band, just know you can come to us because we’re very much attuned to the city,” Hernandez said.

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.