Chris Stapleton latest artist to add scale to Knoxville's music scene

Chris Stapleton is the latest artist to see success take him to Knoxville's biggest arena, and the path he follows was paved by country music legends.

The day after Chris Stapleton won three GRAMMY awards, he announced his 2018 tour will include a stop at Knoxville's Thompson-Boling Arena.

Though the show will be his largest yet in East Tennessee, it is by no means his first.

"Chris Stapleton's played the Bijou in Knoxville many times for the last several times to very strong crowds as a member of The SteelDrivers, and also as he began his solo career," AC Entertainment founder Ashley Capps said.

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Capps started promoting concerts in Knoxville in the late 1970s. AC Entertainment started in 1991, and now manages the Bijou Theatre, Tennessee Theatre and the Mill and Mine in Knoxville, in addition to other venues across the Southeast -- including music festivals like Bonnaroo.

"Watching artists come into a theater like The Bijou, grow to The Tennessee and grow off beyond that is amazing," Capps said.

Stapleton taking his act to the arena level follows the footsteps of many country legends.

Tim Reese has been the the director of Thompson-Boling Arena since it opened in 1987, and the artist that stands out in his mind is Garth Brooks.

"He played Ella Guru's, then he played a WIVK fair, then he sold out five shows in Thompson-Boling Arena a couple years ago," Reece said.

Ella Guru's also happened to be one of Garth Brooks' first five gigs in his career, the country legend told the Tennessee Department of Tourism.

Once artists reach the arena level, booking them to play a mid-size market like Knoxville is often all about timing.

"Knoxville is not an 'A' market, so we have to present ourselves in the right light," Reese said.

Reese said booking concerts at Thompson-Boling often depends on tours passing through between larger markets.

"What secondary and tertiary markets like ours need to be able to do is to present a venue that makes sense for them, that they know it's a relatively easy day to come in, do their stuff, have a pretty good opportunity to get out and roll on to the next city," he said.

Reese said booking acts is just one part of the equation. As more fans buy tickets and support the acts in Knoxville, more promoters will take notice of city for future bookings.

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Capps said that support of live music only helps grow the scene.

"With all the activity you have from the arena down to the smallest clubs, it creates a scene and that scene supports all the other aspects of the scene," he said.