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Top choice in Chattanooga

Myriad songbirds of the avian variety call Tennessee home, but Chattanooga's newly revamped Songbirds – an innovative interactive learning space devoted to music – sings the praises of the state's rich musical history. By day, visitors can explore the art and science of music-making with rotating, hands-on exhibits based on the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) model. By night, Songbirds transforms into a live music venue with two stages and a busy program of concerts and music-focused events.

History of Songbirds

Founded in 2016 with an uplifting mission to share 'the transformative experience of music in eastern Tennessee by delivering educational programming, preserving music history, hosting enriching events, and providing concrete resources to emerging artists,' Songbirds began as a local, non-profit organization. 'Over the years, the foundation has provided thousands of guitars to local schools and has sponsored cognitive music therapy to kids who are differently-abled or have been critically ill or injured,' explains Songbirds Foundation Executive Director Reed Caldwell.

The other side to Songbirds is its breathtaking guitar collection, including rare instruments assembled by vintage guitar dealer and original museum curator, David Davidson. In its original incarnation, the museum was home to the largest privately held vintage guitar collection in the world, but following a year-long shut-down, Songbirds has been reinvented as a space to not only view gorgeous old instruments, but also get actively involved in the music-making process.

The new Songbirds facility will open its doors in September 2021 at the former Chattanooga Terminal Station, today home to the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel and entertainment complex. And yep, this is the station made famous by the eponymous 1941 song by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra.

The Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel
The iconic frontage of the Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel ©csfotoimages / Getty Images

The Songbirds Vintage Guitar Collection

Although slightly reduced from its original recording-breaking extent, the vintage guitar collection at Songbirds features over 500 of the world's most iconic vintage guitars, including Duane Allman's 1961 Gibson Les Paul SG, Bo Diddley's 1965 Fender Jazzmaster, Loretta Lynn's 1968 Gibson ES175D, and Merle Travis' 1969 Gibson Super 400CES.

Even better, the staff of the Songbirds Museum often will take a prized guitar out of its display case and place it into the hands of a visitor, inviting them to play a few chords. If you've ever dreamed of strumming Chuck Berry's 1967 Gibson ES-355TD-SV or Carl Wilson's 1967 Epiphone Riviera, Songbirds can make it happen. Backing up the guitar collection are displays on Chattanooga's unique musical history and the contribution of local artists to American music lore.

The museum also has a firm educational focus, making it a great stop for families. Audio/video installations and STEAM-based exhibits teach visitors about both the guitars and their famous players, and about the science behind electric guitars, recording and amplification. Teens in particular will love the chance to twiddle around with amp settings, learn how different types of wood affect sound, and go inside a mic to see how it works.

Live Music Performances and Vault Sessions

Songbirds hosts weekly concerts in an intimate, 250-person venue featuring a custom-built red oak and ash stage, with all proceeds benefiting the foundation's Guitars for Kids program (which has started thousands of youngsters on their own musical journeys). Can't make it out to Chattanooga to experience Songbirds? Check out their Vault Sessions, an online video series that pairs the museum's rare instruments with top-caliber performing artists and music historians.

Aerial View of Chattanooga, Tennessee
Looking down over downtown Chattanooga ©Kruck20 / Getty Images


When the museum reopens in September 2021, admission to Songbirds will be $15 for adults and $12 for children. Live music events have their own ticketing and you can buy advance tickets for shows directly on the Songbirds foundation website. Check the website's calendar for upcoming concerts and events.

Nearby Restaurants

To get in the mood, enjoy breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or drinks at one of Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel's in-station restaurants and bars. Set inside a revamped train car, and offering the chance to pour your own local draft beers, American Draft is well worth a stop. Afterward, stop and smell the roses at the former terminal's Glenn Miller Gardens. Here are some other good local choices.

Frothy Monkey
St John's Meeting Place

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