It's About Time Riverbend Was Cancelled - And Response

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Since its inception, Friends of the Festival seemed bound and determined to make Riverbend a national event, ignoring the opinions of many Chattanoogans. Riverbend started as a local event drawing on the tastes and desires of local citizens yet has devolved into an outrageously expensive, super-crowded two-week-long free-for-all.

Riverbend has drastically deviated from its original intent of what Riverbend was supposed to be. The following is taken from the Friends board meeting minutes, Sept. 19, 1981 on what Riverbend objectives were:

"To advertise scenic beauty, civic publicity, stimulate new architecture, national image promotion; bring in unique bands, promote local arts and organizations; promote civic pride, artistic quality and economic benefit; encourage individual creative expression (local showcases), sponsor community involvement, artistic pleasure and be a nationally significant indigenous festival; to bring people to downtown for fun and focus/showcase local arts organizations."

Does this sound anything like the spectacle Riverbend has become? Currently it’s priced beyond what many local families can easily afford; vendors prices are exponentially expensive; parking…really(?); and amid any of the venue crowds it’s impossible to escape the odor of beer, marijuana and vomit.

Last year, Riverbend tapered in venue and duration. A step in the right direction. But until Friends of the Festival revisits its original business model, Riverbend has grown beyond the capabilities of our city and alienated too many local audiences.

Might I suggest Friends of the Festival consider cancelling 2021 as well, until you recognize Riverbend’s roots. Downtown Chattanooga isn’t Atlanta, nor does it want to be. If we did, we would be riding on a bullet train to and from Atlanta in exchange for Tennessee River water rights.

Dave Fihn

* * * 

Mr. Fihn,

I would like to take a moment to disagree with your comments about Riverbend.  If you honestly believe Riverbend is over-priced - I suggest you buy a ticket to any single night concert in any venue in any city and compare the prices.  I will bet a dollar to a dime Riverbend's festival ticket price is less than the single concert price nine out of 10 times - if not 100 percent of the time. 

As one of the longest running musical festivals in the country - Riverbend has been a signature event for Chattanooga - employing hundreds if not thousands.  Admittedly - it has not always accommodated my personal musical taste - but the Riverbend Festival is a 'locals' event - designed to entertain those of us who live here - a city filled with a wide variety of people with a wide variety of musical tastes and an even wider range of opinions on how to find it.  Riverbend has provided about as wide a variety of music as one could hope for or imagine. 

Keeping in mind - Chattanooga is a C-market within 200 miles of Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, Knoxville, etc. - all A-markets where bands want to play.  The good news for us - Chattanooga being so close is routed beautifully - for mid-week dates.  Friday and Saturday during festival season for a city like ours - is almost impossible to get the level of bands people scream about and at a price Riverbend can afford. To get a band to play a ticketed concert at the Memorial, for example, is one price.  The same band on the same night for an outdoor festival/Riverbend - the band could demand and will get as much as 2-3+ times the price for the Memorial concert. 

The point is - it is very, very expensive to produce a festival/Riverbend.  It is very, very difficult to successfully appease so many people.  Riverbend has entertained Chattanooga at a high level at an incredibly low ticket price for decades.  It has been a positive feather in our city's cap since day one.

Personally - to everyone involved with Riverbend currently and over the years - thank you all very much! 

George Parker


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