published Friday, March 25th, 2011

Courter: Where have all the oldies acts gone?

I have no actual data to support my theory, but some years ago I predicted festivals like Riverbend would be faced with the challenge of finding what are affectionately known as oldies acts.

Now I know some people bristle at the mere mention of such acts, but the fact is, a lot of people would rather hear bands that they know, love and grew up with. They like being able to hear a full set of songs that represent a particular time or event in their lives or that they can sing along with.

Except for a really bad period in the ’80s, country music as a whole has produced a fairly consistent stable of good live performers, so I’m thinking here primarily of rock, R&B and pop acts.

These bands have been a Riverbend staple since the beginning. This is not to debate the merits of oldies acts. What I am talking about is the fact that most of those acts had their heyday in the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s, and they are aging, dying and/or no longer performing.

Many of the ones that are still performing have played Riverbend already.

Music, especially popular music, from the mid-’80s to the early part of the last decade was primarily digitally created in a studio. Hip-hop and rap dominated the charts and CD sales. There are more than a few old-school rappers still out touring, but not a lot, and for the most part, a lone rapper with a microphone doesn’t always play well in a festival setting.

I thought LL Cool J was a successful headlining rap act at Riverbend several years ago with lots of hits and lots of personality. It can work. The issue is that there are not a lot of touring acts from that era that can play a festival like Riverbend.

So what does all of this mean? Again, I have no data to prove any of this, but the oversimplified expectation is that Riverbend, and the people who attend, will have to adapt. It could mean booking more new acts. Those are expensive, and pin prices would have to go up.

It could mean fans will have to learn to like checking out groups they know little about. Neither are bad options, just different, and truthfully, the festival has been trending toward the latter for a few years.

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It’s got to be one of the coolest rooms for a live music show anywhere, and now fans of the Blueground Underground concert series inside Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tenn., will be able to watch the show on PBS beginning this fall.

The 12-part series features some of the best in bluegrass/acoustic music, and the 333-foot deep Volcano Room inside the cavern is a unique place to hear it played.

“PBS is constantly seeking fresh ways to engage our audience through nature, culture and the arts, and Bluegrass Underground combines all of these in every extraordinary show,” said John F. Wilson, PBS senior vice president and chief television programming executive, in a news release.

The next Bluegrass Underground show, performed in front of a studio audience, will feature the Emmitt-Nershi Band on April 23.

For more information, visit www.bluegrassunderground.com.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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