published Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Miranda Lambert gets a late start, wows crowd at rainy Riverbend

Miranda Lambert takes the stage over an hour late due to lightning
Miranda Lambert takes the stage over an hour late due to lightning
Photo by Tim Barber.
  • photo
    Miranda Lambert waves to a rain soaked crowd after her first song more than an hour late due to storms.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Rather than bemoan the unruly weather as he performed on the Tennessee Valley Credit Union Stage, Mark “Porkchop” Holder seized the opportunity to segue into a decidedly apropos song.

“What the heck, no time like the present,” Holder said before kicking off a rousing rendition of the blues standard “The Sky Is Crying,” on his steel guitar with rain falling in sheets behind him.

Holder, a local blues singer/songwriter, ended up performing for a much larger audience than he started with. Around 7:15 p.m., thunderstorms swept across the festival grounds, sending hundreds to seek shelter from the weather under the Walnut Street Bridge.

The audience went there to escape the rain, but Holder won them over with his enthusiastic, one-man show. His set featured original songs referencing local icons such as the Market Street Bridge and Bessie Smith, as well as covers by artists such as Otis Rush.

At about 7:20 p.m., a stage hand pulled the plug on Holder’s performance when lightning began striking too near the festival. This earned him a cascade of hisses and boos from the crowd until Holder pointed out they were only trying to protect him.

Friends of the Festival cut its losses soon thereafter, cancelling all side stage shows.

Country superstar Miranda Lambert did not sing until nearly 10:45 p.m. to a fairly large crowd when she opened with “Only Prettier” and followed with “Kerosene.”

Earlier this year, Lambert won a Grammy Award, four Academy of Country Music awards and a CMT Music Award.

Festival talent and production coordinator Joe “Dixie” Fuller said Lambert was the second-highest paid Riverbend artist ever — excepting Friday night headliner Alan Jackson — and he was determined to salvage the show.

“They’re sticking it out with us,” Fuller said. “We’re going to save face. There’s no way we can get all those [side] stages up, so we’re going to concentrate on [Miranda Lambert].”

As the announcement of cancellation and delays worked its way around the festival earlier in the evening, many people opted to leave rather than endure the soggy conditions to hear Lambert. This exodus was in stark contrast to the long line of attendees gathered at the Chestnut Street entrance to claim their spaces near the Coca-Cola Stage.

Alisa Caywood, of Dalton, Ga., lined up at 4:15 with her granddaughter, Michaela Smith, hoping to grab a spot in the front row of the seating areas flanking the merchandise tent.

“I just think she’s awesome,” Cawood said. “She puts all her soul and passion into her music. As soon as I saw she was coming, I got the pin. I don’t normally come.”

First-time Riverbend artists Greensky Bluegrass managed to kick off the Bud Light Stage more or less without issue, although an earlier round of storms delayed their 5:30 start time by about 30 minutes.

The Kalamazoo, Mich.-based bluegrass quintet also performed during the Riverfront Nights summer concert series in 2010. After their show at Bonnaroo earlier this month, Riverbend was a welcome chance to return to Chattanooga, said resonator guitarist Anders Beck.

“I remember from playing last year that this area was pretty cool,” he said. “All the stages look awesome, and the lineup is great. We’re psyched to be a part of it.”

The crowd initially was sparse, but Greensky Bluegrass’s jammy, feverish playing quickly attracted more than 200 people before the storms drove them to seek shelter under the nearby Olgiati Bridge.

Guitarist/singer Dave Bruzza wasn’t phased as the drops started to fall 30 minutes in.

“We’re not afraid of a little rain, are we?” he asked the poncho-clad mass in front of him. “That always works,” he confided, grinning, to his band mates after they responded with a smattering of cheers.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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