Remembering the UTC Arena concerts: Where did they go?

It was October 8, 1982.  I was there, along with 11,000 other excited music fans.  It was the night we had long awaited.  Chattanooga finally had an arena large enough to attract superstar musical acts.  The Tivoli Theater, with about 2,000 seats, was a great place for an intimate show, but much too small for a big-name artist.  Memorial Auditorium had not yet been renovated.  It had hosted its share of big shows, but its poor sight lines and 4,000 seat capacity had long been surpassed by venues in surrounding cities.

The UTC Arena (or as some called it, The Roundhouse) put Chattanooga in the big leagues as a concert town.  The opening night headliner was Kenny Rogers, who was cranking out hits one after another.  As we squeezed into our seats, the thankless task of opening the show went to comedian Lonnie Shorr, whose so-so material was met with widespread disinterest from a crowd ooh-ing and aah-ing over the new building.  The Gatlin Brothers were up next, in a set marred by a very awkward moment.  As audience members continued to chatter, singer Larry Gatlin stopped in the middle of a ballad, and said, “Hey, don’t let me interrupt anything.  If y’all would rather talk among yourselves, we can just stop right here.”  The crowd settled down, and Gatlin sang on.  Finally, Rogers appeared, singing “Lucille,” “Coward of the County,” “The Gambler” and his other big hits.  We went home happy, awaiting more great shows at our new arena.

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We were not disappointed.  During the next few years, rarely a month went by without a superstar or two on our local stage.  As soon as one act left town, we would get word that another was on the way.  Something for everyone:  Diana Ross.  Alabama.  Tina Turner.  Bob Seger.  Cher. Billy Joel.  Motley Crue.  Elton John.  Heart. Lionel Richie.  Rod Stewart.  Billy Idol.  Doobie Brothers.  Hank Williams Jr.  Van Halen.  Randy Travis.  Journey. Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Jackson Browne.  ZZ Top.  Bad Company.  Reba McEntyre.  Luther Vandross.  Alan Jackson.  The Allman Brothers.  Bon Jovi.  Def Leppard.  Wynonna Judd.  Metallica.  Chicago.  The Beach Boys.  Guns N’ Roses.  The Statler Brothers. Sandi Patti.  Rick James.  Aerosmith.

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A triple-header with the three biggest country stars on the planet: Merle Haggard, George Jones and Conway Twitty.  Jimmy Buffett.  REO Speedwagon.  John Denver.  Itzhak Perlman.  Guns and Roses.  38 Special. Bob Hope. MC Hammer.  Dan Fogelberg.  John Mellencamp.  Barbara Mandrell.  LL Cool J.  Michael Bolton.  Styx.  Clint Black.  Whitesnake.  The Osmonds.  Rick Springfield.  Kenny G.  Barry Manilow.  Poison.  REM.  Amy Grant.  The Gaither Family.  Richard Marx.  The Oak Ridge Boys.  Even some of the opening acts were big names:  Huey Lewis and the News.  Molly Hatchet. The Pointer Sisters.  Kansas.

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Not to mention all the tractor pulls, rodeos, wrestling matches, Disney On Ice, Harlem Globetrotters, Bob Barker’s Game Show Giveaway, circuses and other spectacles that dotted the calendar.

This isn’t meant to be a complete listing.  I know I left some out, and you’re welcome to add to the list.  Just typing those names brought back great memories:

My then-fiancee Cindy attended the Diana Ross show in early 1983.  She tried to talk me into going, but I was emceeing the KZ-106 English Leather Calendar Girl contest that night.  Well, somebody had to do it.

I took my mother to one of Alabama’s many sold-out shows.  She was not particularly agile at the time, so I helped her down the endless steps to our great floor seats.  We got comfortable, and about 10 minutes before showtime, she said, “I need to go the restroom.”  I soon discovered the restrooms were on the 2nd level.  Back up the steps we go….

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Rod Stewart kicking a soccer ball….The Pointer Sisters energetically outshining the headline act, Lionel Richie….getting to meet Kenny Rogers backstage (my wife, then a bold, brash newsperson got tongue-tied when she met him…”I didn’t know he was so tall and handsome!”…..meeting Bob Seger in his dressing room (he offered me a kiwi…I’d never had one, so I declined, telling him I was trying to quit)…getting bored at the Chicago concert (too many 1980s-era ballads, not enough 70s era horns)….realizing the Arena was not a good place for balladeers like Dan Fogelberg or Jackson Browne to play…being totally knocked out by Tina Turner’s command of the stage…looking on with amusement as Billy Joel handed off the high notes to a backup singer…seeing Billy’s then-wife Christie Brinkley holding their baby Alexa just offstage…watching  Barbara Mandrell play pretty much every musical instrument ever invented…and so many more.

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Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.  But they did.  The arena that hosted at least 20 big-name shows a year, now may host a handful.  Elton John, who lives 2 hours away, has visited twice in recent years.  Taylor Swift was here a while back, just before she became TAYLOR SWIFT.  Maroon 5, Zac Brown, Carrie Underwood and Toby Keith have all appeared in the past several years, but such shows have been few and far between.

Where’s Tim McGraw?  George Strait?  Lady Gaga? Katy Perry? Arcade Fire?  Keith Urban?  And the other first-class acts that used to appear here every few weeks?  The quick answer:  They would rather go somewhere else.  Since 1982, the Arena has gone from shiny and new, to undersized and outdated.  Better-designed venues have sprung up in Atlanta and Nashville with a few thousand more seats.  That means bigger crowds, and more sales of t-shirts, programs and other merchandise that fatten artists’ wallets.  One source close to the UTC Arena (now McKenzie Arena) told me, “It’s not from lack of trying.  We’re always trying to attract big shows.  Some artists say people will drive from Chattanooga to Nashville or Atlanta, but it doesn’t work the other way around.  They look at us as just a blip on the map.”

I’d love to hear about your favorite “Roundhouse” show memories.  Most of the big shows took place before cellphone cameras became commonplace, so there aren’t many pictures from the 80s and 90s era shows.  But we can still hear the music, and the applause.

 

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

21 thoughts on “Remembering the UTC Arena concerts: Where did they go?

  1. Dale McCloud

    David,

    Thanks for bringing back the memories. I saw several shows at the Roundhouse and it was really a fun time. I took my daughter Brooke to a Chicago concert in 80s and she became a Chicago fan for life. It’s funny how one can pinpoint a moment in time that sets the standard for the future. I also took her to see Rod Stewart and all those soccer balls, and I always have said that the Lionel Richie concert with the Pointer Sisters as the opener was the best concert I ever saw. There were some great ones over the years and its a shame that the acts don’t come here anymore. Maybe it’s time to build a bigger and better arena.

    Dale

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  2. Hut Greever

    The Van Halen show was one of the great concert experiences of my rock & roll life. Chattanooga fans were starved for an act like that and the way the band and the audience fed off of each other’s energy was impossible to describe to those not there. This symbiosis between fans and artists was what made the great live shows worth the ticket price and it’s in short supply today.

    BTW, Dave, was Bob Seger’s “Kiwi” a code for something? You were a DJ long enough and I refuse to believe you never even had ONE!

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  3. margaret pope

    David I started going to the concerts there from the beginning. I have a album with most of the ticket stubs in it. If I had all that money I spent on concerts I would have more now. But I would not of had all that fun and all those memories.

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  4. Jan Wright

    David, It’s funny how you blogged about this! I was just talking about the same thing the other day. Actually it was these times where you and I first met! I was working security backstage…don’t remember which show, so many…so many good times. I was in training during Kenny Rogers show, but my actual first show was REO. Worked over 10 years and there was always something going on…I worked my tail off teaching during the day and doing security at UTC Arena at night and weekends. So many fond memories…getting to meet just about everyone who performed there…could write a book! I actually got a signed soccer ball from Rod, Tina Turner (who surprisingly was as short as I) had imported water from Switzerland, Van Halen wanted all brown M&M’s out of the bowl, Travis Tritt destroyed the dressing room because he slipped on a rose that a fan put on stage, Huey Lewis mandated that none of us look at him, sat with Clint Black and Michael Bolton as they signed for Meet and Greet, Waiting on Hank JR to finally show up, etc. etc., etc…but sooo many memories that I miss! I loved that era. I, too heard that there are many reasons why it has declined over the years. Chattanooga is not that far from Nashville, Knoxville and Atlanta, so the larger cities can afford them and the artists just stick to them. Back then, alcohol was a factor being sold in venues as well. Another reason I heard, but do not know if they are accurate was that usually artists travel south in the fall/winter and it interfered with the Mocs basketball practices/games. Maybe sometime we can sit down and talk about the good ole times! Thanks for sharing! I am going to send you two photos that will make your smile…..(I like the concert posters…prices sure have changed!)

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  5. Bruce Bowden

    David: Having access to a lot of those acts in the 80’s while being in the radio business, I have to say that Diana Ross was about the most spectacular artist I have yet to see! Her wardrobe change was amazing….probably changing clothes 20 times right in front of you…and even going into the different sections with her mic….letting people sing “…reach out your hand…!” It was a great night. However, only a few days following that dynamic performance, it was reported that she was in drug rehab!! Same thing happened with Larry Gatlin. But, what great shows I have in my memory. By the way, I left the Dan Folgerberg show midway…couldn’t stay awake!!

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    1. David Carroll Post author

      I still regret not going to the Diana Ross show. I truly don’t remember anything about the Miss English Leather Calendar Girl show…I guess you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all! Yes, Fogelberg should not have played the Arena. His style was much more suited for Tivoli, or Auditorium…but back then I guess he could sell a lot of tickets.

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  6. Sean C. Jones

    I happen to be a child of the eighties and up! I saw Cinderella, Bullet Boys, Aerosmith, Joan Jett, Motley Crue (three times), Kiss, Ted Nugent, Tesla, Poison (two times), Warrant (two times), Great White, Winger, Queensryche, Suicidal Tendencies,Kid Rock, Rod Stewart, and many many more. But now I go to Atlanta or Nashville for shows because other than Track 29 and other small venues, tickets just don’t sell. Many artists have canceled shows because of that and all the restrictions.

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  7. Chuck Crowder

    I’ve seen plenty of the acts mentioned at the Roundhouse since the 80’s. Elton, Van Halen, Tina being huge stand outs. The problem with the arena is that the sound is horrible even when filled to capacity. Not buying the “people won’t drive to Chattanooga” argument. Track 29 gets fans from all over to their venue. Great piece though!

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  8. Debra Cooper

    Those definitely were the days! Not only were there great artists and sold-out venues, but the pricing was so great. Nowadays, you have to take out a loan to pay for front row seats to see anyone.

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  9. Sandy Hughes

    I remember them very well and attended many. I had just sold my house and had extra money and donated to UTC. I was fortunate to buy tickets in the “gold” seats for each event.
    Having two young boys, I did not go to all of them but made some of them. You are right to wonder why these concerts no longer happen.
    Riverbend is closest we have and I am too old to walk the distance and endure the heat for it. Maybe someone will take the hint and rejuvenate the idea.

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  10. Mark Sullivan

    Great article. I saw the Van Halen show, it was very risqué even at the time with the racy language and David Lee Roth’s backless cowboy chaps. Red Hot Chili Pepper’s show was great, even though they were nearly naked the whole time. Another great show not mentioned was Billy Squire and Saga even though Billy got a little angry when somebody tossed on stage a roll of toilet tissue that landed at his feet.

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  11. Cristie Hunt

    I worked at the Arena in the office at the time you are writing of. My boss was David Ross and Mickey Yerger – oh yeah and Skip Schreiber hung out to. This was the best job I ever had and the most amazing time to have been involved in the concert music business ever. Got to meet many stars and had a blast – those were the best of times for sure !

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  12. Steven Ray

    My 1st show to see there was Van Halen on the “Diver Down” tour I believe. Also saw Monkees,Robert Cray,Huey Lewis,Metalica,Bobby Brown,New Edition,The Cult,and a couple of more. Havent been in a while unless it was a Kids Function like circus or Disney show. I will say that the sound was always a issue. Neverless Its the shows that I either had tickets to,or were invited to that for one reason or another missed and those were REM,Bob Segar,Billy Idol,John Mellencamp,and The Allman Brothers.

    As im in my upper 40s now, If I do go to a live Music show im cool with hear the artists that play at Riverfront nights or night fall or track 29. May not be the mega stars but some great talents and you can enjoy the show without too much fighting of crowds or walking a long way for a drink or bathroom.

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  13. Rod Moore

    Dave,stumbled upon this site while searching for video of The early years of The Roundhouse.I worked security with the campus Police back then along with several fellow former Moc football players.The Kenny Rodgers concert brings back memories of his stage in the round,where I was stationed.I was amazed at the amount of Roses that the ladies showered upon his stage.It was my job to gather them up as they landed around the stage. At one point,just before Kenney came out onstage,I was approached by an eager middle aged lady with a small jewelry box,inside it was a Diamond ring,she says to me “Will you give this to Kenney when he comes out”.That was unbelievable!When he came out, as he made his way around the stage,I reached up and handed him the box.
    Another memorable show that I worked was the first Van Halen concert,Hide Your Sheep tour.I remember the religious protesters with huge crosses,roaming the sidewalks outside the arena,in opposition to the Van Halen song,Running with The Devil.My duties for this concert was very interesting.I was chosen by the tour`s stage manager to wear headphones during the concert,taking direction from him for the entire concert.I was stationed at the foot of the stage,at the intersection where the runway juts out from the main stage.Over the headphones he would give me directions such as,after this song the stage goes black,reach up and grab all the underwear from the stage,or he would say ,on this next song David Lee is going to go down the runway,be prepared if anyone jumps up to grab him.It was a blast!I was having the time of my life!In between one song, David Lee looks down to me and says,”even the security is rockin tonight”.And yes,I witnessed the backless chaps up close,lol.
    I worked the John McEnroe/Vitas Gerulaitis exhibition tennis match,where I was assigned to stand guard at McEnroe`s dressing room.I remember while standing outside McEnroe`s dressing room,after the match,two very attractive ladies walk up and asked,”can we go in,John`s a friend of ours”.I go inside to check with McEnroe,I tell him what they said,his reply was,”how do they look”.He was inside with Roscoe Tanner,whom I learned later was a very good friend of his.Roscoe goes out to check them out and after a very short conversation,they were sent away packing,they were no friends,just a ruse to get into the dressing room.Yes,those were high times at the Roundhouse back in the day.

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  14. JR

    I was just looking up a concert from the early ’80s and found this. I left the south in ’90, but grew up in Trenton, and saw most of the concerts you have listed – and more. Mostly the rock and country shows. The four I remember most:

    1.) When Loverboy played they were the loudest band in the world. I remember standing in line to get in, and they soundchecked with “Hot girls in love” and you could visibly see the building moving and I had to be a couple of hundred people back in line. I also remember them being the band to spotlight the couple “in love” in the balcony.

    2.) Vinny Vincent stepping in front of Gene Simmons spotlight and getting the headstock of a bass applied viciously to his head. And spending the rest of the show on a riser, stage left.

    3.) A few days before Iron Maiden played Chattanooga they played in Brazil, to over 120,000 people. In Chattanooga – according to Bruce that night 883 seats. And a large portion of those folks left after Twisted Sister. By the time Maiden came on there were probably 600 or fewer on the floor… And they took it as a challenge to put on as good of a show, with so few people.

    4.) Ozzy, maybe just because he is Ozzy, but also because he and his band were so on, so perfect.

    I could go on and on, about each show.

    From no specific concert, the security coming by and saying “We are all gonna disappear for about 5 minutes, get it in you or throw it away but it isn’t going in”. It is rare to find security anymore who are sane and reasonable.

    The thing I miss most? General Admission. If you fight to the front, you get the show.

    Good times.

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  15. jc

    Van Halen, 1982. It was my first rock concert, and very likely remains my favorite. It was one of those shows in which the band lived up to everything you expected. It was amazing. I still have the 3/4 sleeve shirt I bought there ($5, on top of my $9.50 ticket – imagine that today). It… doesn’t fit now.

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  16. Keith Murray

    I saw lots of great shows at”The Roundhouse”
    Aerosmith to ZZ Top and nearly all in between. Seemed like there was a concert every month or so in the late 80’s early 90’s. A great time to be a teenager that loved great music. I miss those days and going to that venue for concerts. Favorites for me were Van Halen,Kiss and Motley Crue but they were all special in some way.Thanks David for the memory flashbacks. Thanks UTC Arena for great concerts.

    Reply

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