Marty Bohnannon helps make musical dreams come true

“Over the past 25 years of promoting open mics, I’ve met so many artists in the early stages of their development,” says Marty Bohnannon of his time hosting open mics in Chattanooga, from his debut at Phat Wraps to his latest creation. company, the Cherry Street Tavern. “It’s exciting to see some of them become international artists and Grammy winners.”

I momentarily stop devouring my $5 Tavern Burger (more on that later) and encourage him to drop a few famous names that I could use to entice readers of this article. He accedes to my request and rattles off an impressive list of celebrities before stopping to backtrack. “It’s not important,” he finally decides. “I prefer to be quoted as representing artists who need a boost.”

Chelsea Heck, Havoc, Anna Baldree, Lon Eldridge and Cat Campbell, whose forthcoming album was released with financial assistance from Cherry Street Tavern, are among the newcomers to Cherry Street Tavern’s Wednesday open mic. “We created a cocktail named after one of his songs and that money went to fund his EP,” says Marty.

“One thing I’ve always been good at is introducing people. And that’s really my mission statement for this place: to create music jobs and connect the dots for musicians who need help connecting them. The weekly open mic offers many connections, from amateur artists connecting with their first audiences to professional musicians connecting with each other to form new bands. And of course, we can’t forget the very special bond the author of this article made with his $5 Tavern Burger (more on that later).

“There’s what I like to call effortless magic,” Matt Bohannon, Marty’s brother, tells me. “Sometimes the roster is just piled high with twelve awesome players, and sometimes I have more work to do.” In addition to sharing guitar duties in their band The Bohannons, Marty and Matt also share open mic responsibilities. While Marty runs the bar and kitchen, Matt hosts the performances and plays the musical matchmaker.

“Hospitality has a lot to do with making a good open mic,” he says. “I want to make sure everyone feels comfortable. There are many artists that I trained during their first performances, and now they are regulars. There are really talented people who just need a little help.

Beginning artists will find much more than a host of support and an encouraging host. It’s also easy to recruit a top-notch band from regular musicians who enjoy their foil-wrapped $5 tavern burgers. Matt even put together his latest band, Big Ole Roots, from friends he made at the open mic. “It’s magical when people meet minutes before they go on stage and can communicate so easily through music.”

At this point, I find myself once again directing our conversation to the yin and yang of crispy beef and gooey cheese in my $5 Tavern Burger. “Damn, now I’m gonna need a burger,” Matt decides before introducing me to his creator, George MacEwan.

“There’s a story behind this burger,” muses George, a jovial British transplant who, along with Marty Bohannon, is co-owner of the Cherry Street Tavern. “I was in a moment of deep reflection. My wife and kid had gone to Florida, and you could say I opened my third eye and had a moment of clarity: we needed a five-dollar burger! It had to be affordable enough for everyone but delicious enough for connoisseurs. We just needed to make it as good as possible and make as little money as possible, and somehow everything would even out and the universe would balance out.

Inasmuch as universal balance can be achieved by two crispy beef patties and a gooey cheese coating inside a soft bun steamed to perfection in a foil wrapper, the Cherry Street Tavern has succeeded.

“I’ve eaten one every day since we put it on the menu,” admits Marty, walking back to the business side of the bar. On stage, another performer tunes her guitar and an impromptu band forms behind her. They change a few chords and, as Matt Bohannon likes to say, some effortless magic unfolds.