My 2012 Riverbend started out with a phone call on opening day asking if Riverbend was cancelled. Why, I asked the caller. He said, “Because it is only 83 degrees out and not 101 degrees”. I told him I thought Riverbend would tough it out with the cooler temperatures.
With possibly the coolest temperatures at Riverbend in many years – perhaps ever – Riverbend kicked off with a bang, as big time country star Eric Church brought in a crowd that put him fourth on the all-time biggest night list. The rest of the week would see huge crowds and will probably result in one of, if not the biggest, Riverbend in 31 years when the numbers are all crunched. Was it perfect? Nope. Nothing of that size ever is, nor probably ever will be.
Was it good? You betcha!
The Music – A-
Jeff Styles and Dixie Fuller did what they always do – they booked great acts, diverse and often unknown, that turned out to be favorites of many festival-goers. I suppose my favorite was Here Come the Mummies, and it apparently was the favorite of many others, as well. I asked Dixie to book them this year and he did. Of course, I asked him to book one of the biggest names Riverbend has never had – Merle Haggard – but to no avail. There is always next year!
I also liked Futurebirds, Pop Evil in a weird sort of way, Lil’ Malcom & the Houserockers, Cody McCarver, Joe Louis Walker, Lionel Young, Rebirth Brass Band, Co-Love, Mingo Fishtrap, Foghat, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Blackberry Smoke, and Get The LED Out, to name but a few. My absolute favorites were Smooth Dialects, Remembering January, The Malemen Band, Digital Butter, Jimmy Dormire & the Infinite Line, and Jumbo Deluxe. The first four are local bands that did extraordinarily well, and the last two just plain rocked the place. I didn’t have to see Roger Alan Wade & Friends to know it was good – it just had to be. Personally, the Chattanooga All-Star Band was my ultimate favorite, as I had chance to pick the wonderful musicians in the band and help manage them. I loved the fact that they played after Foreigner to almost the entire Coke Stage crowd, and kept them there until the last song at midnight. They also donated their entire performance fee to Orange Grove Center. I know I left out a lot of good acts, but I just couldn’t be in more than a couple places at once.
My reason for the A minus was because I felt Foreigner was a great show, but really was just a tribute band, with no original members. I must add that Kelly Hansen, lead singer, was quite incredible and has been with the band for many years. The Goo Goo Dolls were just so-so, in my opinion. On the other hand, Charlie Wilson may have put on the best show of the year on the Coke Stage. The Happy Together Tour on Sunday, while happy enough, just didn’t kick start my engines. I’m a “side-stage” guy, anyway.
The Weather –A
A few drops of rain on Sunday during the Mule show, and that was about it for the week. No thunder, no lightning, no canceled shows. Cooler temps really helped, too.
The Fireworks – A+++++++
If all Riverbend did was the waterfall off the Market Street Bridge, it would get an A for a grade. However, there was much more, timed to music and it was the best I have seen there in my years of going to Riverbend. Since I was the first to cross the Market Street Bridge when it reopened a few years ago, I have an attachment to that landmark in our city. The waterfall is just amazing. I also loved it when fireworks dude played Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”, accompanied by those fireworks that look like they are being shot right out of the river.
The Cops – B
Our Chattanooga Police and Hamilton County Sheriff’s officers always do a good job, but they did have an incident with one officer that lowered their score. That may not be fair because one bad apple does not spoil the lot, but it sure doesn’t help much. I will ask people remember that 99% of officers are great, and don’t judge the one until the investigation is complete.
The Strut – B-
The Strut gets an A just for coming back from the dead. It gets an A for the music. It gets an A for the organization. It gets a C for the crowd size. I didn’t see much support from the black community, other than the many workers and volunteers there. The white crowd way outnumbered the black crowd, and it shouldn’t have been like that. Surely $5 did not keep them away. I think the earlier rainstorms hurt somewhat, but the white folks came out. I think next year, it will be better though.
The Bargains – A +
Once again, the $32 pin price gets a patron nine days of music. That is crazy-low and a real bargain. The beer and food at Riverbend is a great deal, too. As I mentioned in an earlier column, a 16oz beer costs less at Riverbend than at all 32 major league ballparks, and even less than a Coke at some movie theaters. Parking continues to be a great deal, too – free. If you followed my suggestion, just park at Finley Stadium for free and ride the $1 shuttle. The 70’ Ferris wheel and other rides were just $4, and that seemed like a good deal, too.
The Stage Crews, Sound and Light Crews, and Volunteers – A+
These folks do a spectacular job providing the artists a quality stage, sound and lights. The IATSE (Stage hands), are real professionals and we are lucky to have them. Sometimes unions get a bad rap, but I can tell you that these men and women are the hardest working crew in the business. There is none of that mentality that this one only does the roof, and that one only moves equipment – these folks step in and they do it all and they do it efficiently, quickly, and safely. The stage managers at the stages are wonderful, too. The volunteers make the festival happen and keep the cost down to less than $4 per night. They rock!
The Chairs? – B
Last year, “The Chairs” got a C grade. This year they move up to a B grade, since the festival instituted a policy of picking all of them up each night. While there is no more leaving them out for the whole week, the policy is still not perfect, as people can still come in and place them in the morning. But, it was an improvement, and Riverbend is always looking to “tweak” things to make it better, it seems.
The Traffic – D-
I have never graded the traffic before, but it is pretty bad. The only way to fix it is for everybody to follow my simple suggestion and park at Finley Stadium and ride the $1 shuttle. It probably won’t happen, but the Police need to keep working the problem. I suppose they didn’t get an F because much of the traffic woes are self-inflicted by the festival-goers themselves. Maybe they could block off all of downtown and issue passes only for employees of businesses located within the closed district, hotel guests, and residents within the closed district. And me.
Of course, another way of looking at it is to compare it to Bonnaroo. Riverbend ties up traffic within a few blocks of the festival. Bonnaroo ties up traffic from here to Nashville on I-24. Maybe, I should give the traffic a B-.
The PINS – B-
I have never heard any complaints about the Riverbend pins before, but this year I heard several. It seems that some of them, maybe a bad batch, came apart from their backing clip. Perhaps it is time they step into the 21st century and go with a week-long armband instead of the pin. These armbands come encoded with a chip in them so you can better track movements, time of entry and such. They can be scanned from 3-5 feet away. They could get a band that is waterproof and only allows the user a one-time wear, which would eliminate “pin-sharing”, or get a removable armband that allows “pin-sharing”. I have no idea if Riverbend is concerned about “pin-sharing”, as I suspect they budget their income from pins on the total sold, not the number of times the pin comes into the park. The RFID chip encoded pins could provide valuable information to Riverbend that may make the festival even better.
While we are entering the 21st century, they could do away with tokens, too. Just sell refillable “gift cards” in increments of $10-$25-$50-$100. They are much easier to carry, and are easy to hook up to a fast accounting system. A short-term investment for a long term goal is what they call that, I think. Keep taking the tokens, but don’t issue any more. You could still go to the BI-LO and get the cards validated and get the 10% discount. No more cleaning, counting, rolling, and carrying all those tokens by festival workers. The “token” booths at the festival would just become card issuers and validation points.
Overall – A
At $32 a pin, the festival gets an A. If it was a $275 festival like Bonnaroo or a $175 festival like Hangout, it would probably not get an A. You can buy a lot of additional big name talent with the extra millions raised by the higher prices, but Riverbend has always been for Chattanooga, about Chattanooga, and in Chattanooga. A lot of local people can afford $32. Not so many could afford $275. If you go every night, it costs but $4 a night to attend. One Eric Church concert averages more than the cost of the pin, according to Pollstar. Go see Futurebirds and Here Come The Mummies in concerts outside of Riverbend and you would pay more than the pin price, according to Pollstar.
Each year, I field questions as to why we have local bands. About 25% of the bands are local at Riverbend – 50% are local at Nightfall and that too is a great concert series for Chattanooga.
I will give you three good reasons why local bands make sense for the Riverbend festival. One is answered above with the statement that this festival is for and about Chattanooga. Riverbend doesn’t even advertise outside the area. The second reason is that it gives our wonderful local musicians a chance to shine with the best equipment, technicians, and stage hands in the business. On more than one occasion, I have had local band members tell me it was such a thrill to play Riverbend and that many of their relatives got to see them play for the first time, as most bands don’t bring their small kids or grandma to the local bar when they play. The third reason is that they sell pins like crazy - Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, the aunts, uncles, kids, neighbors, and friends all come out to see the local band members play at Riverbend, and that translates into pin sales and concession sales.
By now, many people know that I assist in booking some of the local and regional bands at Riverbend. It really isn’t a secret. I am proud to say that of the 91 bands I have booked the past 4 years, 78 had never played Riverbend. Most of the others had not played in several years. While I probably could arrange it, I have never had my picture taken a Coke Stage act. But, I am very proud to say that I have been fortunate enough to be in quite a few pictures with our local musicians. It is an honor and I am proud of all of you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve to be in Chattanooga’s Riverbend Festival.
I would also like to thank Chattanooga Golf Carts for use of the cart during Riverbend. It really came in handy, helping disabled patrons in and out of the festival, moving artists from the stage to parking lots, and moving me quickly from here to there. Go down to Broad Street and buy one. Tell them I sent you!
It’s just 51 weeks until Riverbend 32. See you there! Support local music until then!
Email Bob Payne at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/davrik2000
Here Come The Mummies at Riverbend 2012
- Photo2 by Wendy King