Cotton Eyed Joe celebrating 25th year

Tracy Lawrence set to perform Sept. 15

Gingi Bakri, left, owner and general manager, and his brother, Jed Bakri, manager, have made Cotton Eyed Joe, 11220 Outlet Drive, a destination place for music lovers and performing artists.
In the almost 25 years the doors of Cotton Eyed Joe have been open, it has become “a destination” where new and big-name artists, especially country music artists, have played.

“We are the place to be,” said Gingi Bakri, owner and general manager of Cotton Eyed Joe, 11220 Outlet Drive, Farragut.

Performers — and famed actors in a couple of cases — such as Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters, Charlie Daniels, Kevin Costner, George Jones, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band and Chris Stapleton have entertained Cotton Eyed Joe’s customers.

“About 80 percent of the artists have been through here,” Bakri said.

Popular country music artist Tracy Lawrence will perform Friday, Sept. 15, in the club. Bakri recommends purchasing tickets in advance. The show begins somtime after 9 p.m.

Tickets for customers age 18 and older are $10 in advance online [along with a 15 percent service fee] at www.cottoneyedjoe.com and $15 at the door. All tickets purchased online may be picked up the day of the event at Cotton Eyed Joe “Will Call,” which opens at 6 p.m. If a show is rescheduled, customers can get a rain check for the date that show is rescheduled.

“It’s a destination, especially on weekends and big holidays,” Bakri said. “We get customers come from all surrounding states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia.”

He estimated the club averages 6,000 to 7,000 people a week come through the door when there is no concert.

With concerts, Bakri estimated a crowd of 10,000 to 11,000 a week.

The club also is a destination for country music artists wanting to perform in Knoxville, said manager Jed Bakri, Gingi’s brother.

“With our close proximity to Nashville, we get all the artists and new artists from Nashville,” Gingi Bakri said. “It’s just a two-and-a-half-hour ride for them, so this is a very good destination for a gig and even a test market for the music to be in Knoxville and especially for Cotton Eyed Joe.

“It is known in Knoxville, if you are going to make it, you’ve got to play at the Cotton Eyed Joe,” he added. “When you are honest with them, when you do what you tell them you are going to do, when there’s a good sound and you provide the environment and the atmosphere for them to have a good show [then you draw the artists].”

Gingi Bakri attributed the success of getting the artists to word-of-mouth.

“People talk among themselves,” he said. “So, all the time, we get phone calls from bands that like to play at the Joe, so we pick and choose.”

Gingi Bakri opened the club in 1993. “I used to work for other companies — I was doing security and managing restaurants and lounges. After I finished college, I determined a man must have his own business to make it,” he said.

“You can work for others and make money for them or you can work for yourself and make money for yourself,” Gingi added.

Through the years, Gingi said, “Country music, in general, changed and you have to adapt with the times.

“Country music in the ’80s and ’90s, even early 2000s, is different from the country music today. Then, about every country artist had a cowboy hat,” he added. “Today, you go to Nashville and the first thing they tell you is ‘take that cowboy hat off.’ The artists in Nashville look like a GQ [photo]. It doesn’t look nothing country.

“So, you have to adapt in my business to the industry that’s going on around you. That’s why a lot of lounges in clubs in my field will not last long — because they are not adapting right.”

However, Gingi Bakri said he learned to adapt “from a music point of view and from the dancing point of view.

“In the early ’90s, everyone did not line dance. Everything was couple dance,” he said. “Today, about 80 percent of the dancing is line dancing, which is performed to country and hip hop. So, you have to play the country that’s coming out of Nashville today.

Cotton Eyed Joe still plays some “old country.”

“It just depends on when you come in, early night or late night,” Gingi Bakri said. “But, you still have to play the hip hop and the upbeat music for line dancing.”

One of the first headlining performers was Chris LeDoux, who performed in the mid-1990s.

With the success of the club, Gingi Bakri said he has received offers to buy Cotton Eyed Joe, but added, “no checks have cleared.”

Club hours are from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Business hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. The club is closed Tuesday.

Cotton Eyed Joe also offers free-line dance lessons for children ages 10 years and younger and $5 for anyone 11 years old and older.

For more information, call Cotton Eyed Joe at 865-675-3563.