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Weekend edition April 28, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Why big-name artists are coming to perform in Knoxville

Lizzo. Stevie Nicks. Paul McCartney. Wicked. What's bringing these massive performances to the Scruffy City?

Lizzo filled Thompson-Boling Arena with thousands of screaming fans last weekend.

People are already buying season tickets for the Broadway shows coming to the Tennessee Theatre in 2024 just days after the lineup was announced.

The Bass Master Classic wants to return to Knoxville after over 100,000 people came out to watch the tournament on the Tennessee River.

These are only recent happenings in the Scruffy City, with much more big-name entertainment coming down the line, including the return of the USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships for one last year, a Stevie Nicks concert, and rumors that Aerosmith will be performing in Knoxville soon.

“All of those things are the way we tell the story of why you should visit Knoxville for those events, but also to expose those customers to Knoxville through those platforms to increase repeat visitation,” said Kim Bumpas, President of Visit Knoxville.

It begs the question, is Knoxville becoming an entertainment hub in the Southeast?

“I would make the argument that we were always that, but people didn’t see us as that,” said Bumpas.

She said right before the pandemic, Knoxville was really ramping up its entertainment game, whether that be plays, concerts, sporting events, comedians, and more. Since the city and state were only closed for a couple of months at the very beginning of the pandemic, Knoxville became an attractive place to visit for those wanting to travel safely at the time.

“Our venues kicked in and the hotels started driving a higher rate, and all of that goes into the customer experience,” said Bumpas. “People that weren’t thinking about Knoxville or didn’t think to visit here began flocking here.”

Bumpas said this exposure gave Knoxville the feel of being “this premier getaway destination.”

And the more people go to a place, the more likely entertainers are to perform there.

“All these venues are what’s putting us on the map to book the shows,” said Bumpas, referencing the Tennessee Theatre, Bijou Theatre, Thompson-Boling Arena (TBA), and the Knoxville Civic Coliseum.

She noted that a big turning point in the caliber of talent the area can attract was the huge success of the Paul McCartney concert at TBA in May of 2022. Bumpas said prior to that concert, the venue had sold out for previous concerts, but mostly country music.

“Paul McCartney not only sold out in the presale, but it also sold out at an elevated ticket price of $600+ per ticket. And so I honestly think the floodgates opened in the concert world at that point,” said Bumpas.

Now Lizzo’s been to TBA, and Stevie Nicks, Guns N’ Roses, The Chicks, and Shania Twain all have concerts scheduled there this year.

And on the theatrical side, the Tennessee Theatre continues to attract the best of Broadway.

“We are so excited to announce the 2023-2024 season of Broadway at the Tennessee,” said Tennessee Theatre Executive Director Becky Hancock. “Coming off the heels of the biggest Broadway season we’ve ever had, this next season is sure to keep the bar high. We look forward to once again entertaining tens of thousands of returning and new patrons at the Official State Theatre of Tennessee.”

The touring shows SIX, Jagged Little Pill, Wicked, Hadestown, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Beetlejuice will put on a total of 56 performances at the theatre in that order starting this fall into next summer.

FILM FEST KNOX will take place at the Regal Cinemas downtown on Gay Street this fall. The U.S. Olympic Diving Team Trials are coming to Knoxville in 2024. Southern Skies Music Festival returns this spring, along with numerous annual cultural festivals throughout the summer. Minor league hockey and soccer games continue to excite sports fans. And those are only some of the things that give Knoxville and its visitors a plethora of things to do.

Bumpas said the big events coming to Knoxville will only continue to grow, especially with the addition of a downtown multi-sport stadium which will also hold receptions and concerts.

So if Knoxville wasn’t already an entertainment hub, it’s there now.

“We’re here and we’re here to stay,” said Bumpas. “It’s a really exciting time to be in Knoxville.”

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