Historic Music Venues: The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle in Atlanta has gone through several iterations during a storied history that spans more than a century, with a majority of those years seeing the building exist as a church. Since its full conversion into a music venue to coincide with the Summer Olympics in 1996, the Tabernacle has grown into one of the premier concert venues in the Southeast.

Situated in downtown Atlanta, the Tabernacle is big enough to accommodate some of the world’s biggest artists, but also quirky enough to play home to the hottest indie bands touring across the country.

Tabernacle480The original version of the Tabernacle was founded in 1898 by pastor and physician, Dr. Leonard Gaston Broughton.  The Baptist church started on the corner of Luckie and Harris streets, which eventually became the heart of Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park.  Seeing a mushrooming congregation, Broughton and his deacons sought a larger location, and moved to the Luckie St. site where the Tabernacle currently stands.

The new church continued to grow until the mid-1950s when demographic changes in downtown Atlanta led to a steady decline in the congregation.  According to some estimates, the assembled worshippers at the Tabernacle dwindled to a hundred members, and a lack of donations caused the board of trustees to look for a buyer.

That buyer came in the form of Isaac Tigrett and a few other investors, who looked to capitalize on the Tabernacle’s potential as an entertainment venue during the 1996 Olympics. The purchasing group turned it into a House of Blues just in time for the Summer Games, enjoying a rocket-fueled boost from legends like Al Green, James Brown and Johnny Cash.

The Blues Brothers’ 1996 show at the Tabernacle marked the reunited band’s debut performance, this time featuring Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi and John Goodman (and without the late John Belushi).

In addition, Bob Dylan performed two noteworthy shows at the Tabernacle to close out the ceremonies.

Status as an Olympic hotspot had civic leaders hoping the momentum would carry over and cause the House of Blues to make Atlanta a permanent home.

Unfortunately, public interest wanted and the short-term lease expired in 1998, and it took the investment of a man named Lance Sterling to keep it open through 1999, under the previous name of the Tabernacle.  Sterling eventually sold his stake to SFX Entertainment, a company now known as Live Nation, and since then, it has solidified its place among the nation’s must-play houses.

Atlanta’s own Black Crowes have certainly carried that banner, as some of their most memorable performances have resonated through the Tabby’s hallowed halls.  A four-night stand in 2005 that reunited founding member Steve Gorman with the band comes to mind immediately, as does a 2013 show that marked a triumphant end to a second hiatus for the Crowes.

Heavy-hitters such as Guns N’ Roses, Adele, Alice in Chains and the Cult have also graced the Tabernacle stage, just to name a few.

While the bright, psychedelic colors that cover the walls of the Tabernacle might not evoke a church-like setting — in addition to the removed choir seats — there is still a balcony that calls to mind the services held by the venue’s previous tenants.

Still, the Tabernacle is a terrific place to worship at the altar of great music.

For more information, visit the Tabernacle’s official website.



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