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Tourists Leave Music City Upset By VIP Promises


By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was supposed to be a night to celebrate a landmark where Grand Ole Opry stars gathered.

But last month's 50th anniversary celebration for Tootsie's Orchid Lounge has stirred up a stink, with some tourists now saying the big bash was just a bash for their cash.

"I was scammed, definitely scammed," said Debbie Smith from Cincinnati.

The event was a celebration of the legendary Nashville honky-tonk -- a bar still known for the occasional surprise appearance of folks like Kid Rock, Brooks and Dunn, Kellie Pickler and Hank Williams Jr.

Some fans paid as much as $150 each for passes that were supposed to provide a real VIP experience.

"That was the biggest sham that I've ever in my life seen," said Jim Hendry from southern Georgia.

Those tourists say Tootsie's has ignored complaints that they posted on the bar's Facebook page about being "ripped off."

And when NewsChannel 5 Investigates tried to ask the man behind the ticket sales, we didn't get the VIP treatment either.

"Hey, hey, listen to me," manager John Taylor said. "Y'all go away from me. Get away out of here. Leave me alone."

Owner Steve Smith had barred NewsChannel 5's cameras from the Tootsie's celebration after our investigation revealed that he and Taylor, who's his brother, were both convicted in connection with a Wall Street fraud back in the 80s.

Taylor later admitted participating in a Mafia-connected money laundering scheme.
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Still, when we tried to ask Taylor about the tourists' complaints, he cried, "I've already talked to them. Y'all leave me alone."

Debbie Smith says she was hooked by the early promotions touting a rare performance by Kris Kristofferson during a special concert at the Ryman, as well as a "VIP Package" that included "pre- and after-show parties" and "artist meet and greets."

"They promised a meet and greet -- there was no meet and greet," she said. "I paid $300 to see Kris Kristofferson and to meet Kris Kristofferson, and they did not provide that promise to me."

A spokesperson for Kristofferson told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Tootsie's managers hired him to perform a short set, but never even asked the country music legend to mingle with the fans who'd bought the $150 tickets.

"What happened to the meet and greets?" we asked Taylor.

"Y'all leave me alone," he continued.

Taylor had also sent out an email promising "only VIP ticket holders will be able to get into Tootsie's for the pre-show and the after-party."

"They said that there would be a pre-party at 5 o'clock," Debbie Smith said. "We waited from 4 to 5 to 6 to 7:30. There was nothing."

Jim Hendry and his friends found the same thing. "Everybody acted like they didn't even know what you were talking about."

Then when it came time for the exclusive after-party, these folks say it seemed like just another night at Tootsie's.

"There were a lot of people on the outside who had the passes who could not get in due to people without passes that were able to get in," Debbie Smith added.

Again, we asked Taylor, "What about the parties you promised?"

He answered, "Go away."

It's a situation that these patrons think would not please Tootsie Bess, the woman whose name graces the Nashville landmark. "She'd probably roll over in her grave that that had even happened," Hendry said.

At least five complaints have been filed with the state Division of Consumer Affairs, and the state says Tootsie's has not responded.

But a lawyer for Tootsie's said he was only aware of three -- out of what he claims were a thousand VIP passes sold.

"It is not good for Tootsie's or Nashville to have upset tourists," David Lyons said. "If a VIP ticket holder is upset, filed a complaint, and wants a refund, they are welcome to contact Tootsie's."

Still, we found at least 14 people complaining on Tootsie's Facebook page -- with many of them saying their complaints have been ignored.

And we discovered that actually has been deleting negative comments on its Facebook wall, leaving just the positive ones.

Lyons said that, after the concert, VIP ticket holders were welcomed inside a nearby tent. Customers, however, say they paid for an exclusive party inside the place where the stars once gathered.


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