In the 2001 redneck comedy “Joe Dirt,” the eponymous Mr. Dirt meets Kicking Wing, the American Indian owner of a failing fireworks stand. Wing’s problem, Joe explains, is that he sells only the most bland items, snakes and sparklers. “Where’s the good stuff, man?” Joe asks. “This is the good stuff,” Wing replies. Joe’s response? “Are you nuts dude? You need stuff that goes ‘boom,’ that explodes.”
With only 28 days until the start of Riverbend, I’m beginning to wish someone had delivered a copy of “Joe Dirt” to the offices of Friends of the Festival because this year’s Coke Stage lineup is all snakes and sparklers. Unless you’re a country fan, there’s not a single Roman candle or firecracker in sight.
Every year, I await the Coke Stage announcements with great anticipation. Since I started covering the festival in 2007, there have been at least two headliners a year I’ve been excited to see. Given that this marks the event’s 30th anniversary, my hopes were much higher than normal. I expected a bag of M-80s; instead, I got a matchbox of Snap-N-Pops.
In December, there was a great deal of hoopla that Country Music Association darling Miranda Lambert was Riverbend’s most expensive booking ever. Given the kind of year she’s been enjoying (four CMAs and a Grammy), she’s sure to be a crowd pleaser for country fans. Ditto Alan Jackson and Kellie Pickler. In fact, this year’s lineup is probably the strongest I’ve seen in terms of representing Music Row twang.
But what about those of us who don’t know what boot scootin’ is, much less care about it?
For starters, there’s opening headliners Huey Lewis and The News, who haven’t had a Top 10 hit since 1986. The next night, we’ve got The Beach Boys, or more accurately Beach Boy, given that only one founding member, Mike Love, will be there. Other than that, there’s ex-talk-show host Brian McKnight, who doesn’t carry anywhere near the weight of appeal of recent R&B selections like Earth, Wind & Fire or even The Ohio Players, who were a side-stage act in 2008.
The only act with even a hint of appeal to younger listeners is the symphony night headliner, Pink Floyd tribute artist The Machine. Even that’s a stretch, though, since I don’t think any cover band deserves a headlining slot, even one with as killer a stage show as The Machine’s.
Now, I’m fully aware I’m not Riverbend’s target audience. Clearly, they have to book artists with a wide appeal, but personally, I feel completely left out this year. I’m not alone, either. A post on the newspaper’s Facebook page asking for thoughts on the Coke Stage lineup yielded 15 responses. At best, they were ambivalent; at worst, they expressed outright anger at the selections.
This year is Riverbend’s 30th anniversary. That’s an event that deserves show-stopping headliners who appeal to everyone, not three for fans of a single genre.
As usual, I think the best music at Riverbend will be found on the side stages, and I’ll explore more of those next week. In the meantime, I can’t help but ask, “Where are my bottle rockets?”
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 ...