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Cashed out at Chip's

Greg and Anne Forrester leave behind a bittersweet blues legacy in Winder

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It's a blues twist on a typical American success story. Married couple with child turn a one-time convenience store into a thriving blues music venue -- one that hosts national acts and an annual outdoor music festival.

The couple is Greg and Anne Forrester. The venue is Chip's, a cozy Winder roadhouse with a national reputation. The Harvest Moon Bluesfest, which the Forresters launched in 1997, has hosted John Mooney, Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, the Nighthawks, Greg "Fingers" Taylor and many others. Anne handled most of the operations of the business. Greg handled band bookings, the festival and other details.

But, to borrow a phrase from blues great James Harman, there are at least two sides to every story. And that certainly is true for the Forresters. In the aftermath of dramatic changes in ownership that took place in October, the two have found themselves, rather abruptly, no longer associated with Chip's.

The couple began operating Chip's in 1994, once holding a controlling interest in the business. In 1995, as a one-time "lark," they booked Tinsley Ellis for a weekend. Both shows sold out quickly and Chip's, the music venue, was born.

"It started out as our place," Forrester says. "[But] you know how tough the club business is -- especially doing festivals. We put a lot of resources into it, and over the years we diluted our ownership to keep the program going."

Since 1994, the Forresters' ownership interest in Chip's eroded from more than 70 percent to roughly 30 percent divided among more than a half-dozen partners. Forrester won't tell the whole story -- not on the record, anyway. But he notes that the couple "knew the risks" of losing controlling interest in Chip's. "It became a political issue as much as anything, and a business issue -- and you can't argue with it," he says. "But the one with the most toys wins."

Rick Slayton, current treasurer of the Chip's business entity and, like Forrester, one of the former shareholders, has a more straightforward view of the transition.

"We took it as far as we could take it," he says. "Often in business, the entrepreneurs who start it take it to a certain level, and then you need new investors to come in and take it to the next level. Somebody comes in behind.

We sort of ran out of money."

The Forresters enjoyed "mom and pop" status as proprietors of Chip's, an image that helped foster the audience loyalty that has kept the place alive. "We were real lucky that we hit on a core audience, real quickly, that just loved the music," he says. "They were fiercely loyal. At the same time, the club was losing money. I'm sure that customers were spending money they didn't have just to support it. They were almost as determined to make the place survive as we were."

While the timing of their ouster took the two by surprise, Greg has moved on to other business interests, including plans to promote some upcoming music events. If he has regrets, he takes them in stride. "We had a blast," he says.

Though the Forresters are no longer involved in Chip's, the venue remains faithful to the entertainment template Greg created, from the calendar of local and national roots music acts to Tuesday night trivia.

The club will make "no changes, and stay absolutely as close as we can" to the format Forrester created at Chip's, Slayton says, adding, "Greg did a great job of putting it where it's at."

Chip's features Code Blue Fri., Jan. 11, and Sweet Betty with Little Joey's Jump-N-Jive Sat., Jan. 12. Show time is 9 p.m.; $8 cover each night. Chip's is located at 655 Patrick Mill Road, Winder. For more info, call 770-307-2840 or visit www.chipsroadhouse.com.

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.

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