published Friday, June 8th, 2012

Riverbend 101: What to know before diving into this year's festival

Crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. More than 100 bands. Nine nights. Six stages. Oh so very many sunburns.

Break it down into raw numbers and Riverbend can sound like a pretty overwhelming experience. But don't fret. Here's a handy user's guide to the festival and what you can and can't do there.


There are six gates, and they open daily at 4:30 p.m.

• The Main Gate (corner of Chestnut Street and Aquarium Way)

• The Hunter Museum Gate (at the top of the stairs leading down from the museum to Riverfront Parkway)

• The Riverside Drive Gate (corner of Lookout Street and Aquarium Way)

• The Walnut Street Bridge Gate (under the south end of the Walnut Street Bridge)

• The Marina Gate (on Riverfront Parkway, west of the Olgiati Bridge)

• The Passage Gate (at the entrance to the waterway, between the aquarium and Market Street)


1. Remember to hold on to your festival brochure. Its map/schedule will be invaluable for planning your night.

2. Keep cash handy if you plan to buy anything at the Riverbend Marketplace. Vendors there do not accept tokens.

3. Consider biking to the festival. Free bike valet service stores your wheels in a secure lot and is available 5-11 nightly at the Walnut Street Bridge entrance.

4. Check back daily to see the progress on Team Sandtastic's massive sand sculpture at the Riverbend Beach on Riverfront Parkway.

5. Avoid a potential nightmare by parking far away and hitching a ride on the free electric shuttles that drop off near the Chestnut Street entrance.


1. Don't plan on bringing outside food or drinks. Concessions are available with tokens, which are available at nine stands for $10 a roll.

2. Don't forget to keep your smoking and drinking out of the designated areas, which have been further expanded after their implementation last year.

3. Don't try to buy a drink too late. All vendors will cease alcohol sales 15 minutes before the end of the headliner's show (10:45 p.m.).

4. Don't toss any tokens you don't spend. Although not redeemable for cash, they will be usable at next year's festival.

5. Don't risk dehydration or heat stroke. Keep cool and hydrated by grabbing a free cup of water at first-aid tents.


Even after 30 years, Riverbend is still changing. Here's what's new this year.

• No more Coke Lawn speculating. All lawn chairs, blankets and other guest seating left on the grounds each night will be discarded. No more "accidentally" leaving your chairs to claim the best viewing spot for an entire week.

• The Meo Mio's stage. In addition to showcasing Cajun food and a mix of jazz, blues and zydeco music, this new stage will offer up the only mixed drinks and craft beer at the festival.

• Club Hunter. Hunter Museum members can pay $125 (nonmembers pay $150) for a package that includes an admission pin, access to the museum during both weekends, food and a video feed of the Coke Stage. For an extra $50, members get dedicated parking spots.

• The Century Wheel. The fairground atmosphere on the east side of the Olgiati Bridge will be enhanced this year with a 70-foot Ferris wheel featuring covered gondola seats and LED lighting. Rides may be purchased with tokens.


• Coke Stage (on a barge docked at the foot of amphitheater)

• Bud Light Stage (eastern side of the Olgiati Bridge at the end of concession row)

• Unum Stage (at the top of the Riverfront Parkway hill, down the stairs from the Hunter Museum)

• Volkswagen (on the field between Chestnut Street and Power Alley)

• Tennessee Valley Credit Union Stage (under the Walnut Street Bridge)

• Meo Mio's Cajun Spirits Stage (western side of the Olgiati Bridge)


Each night's headliner performs from 9:30 to 11 p.m.

A full listing of performers, including side stages, is available at Read more about the nightly headliners in the Times Free Press each day of the festival.

Today: Eric Church

Did you know? His third album, "Chief," takes its title from Church's nickname on the road. "When it's show time, I put on the sunglasses and the hat, and that's how people know it's game time," he says in an online bio.

Saturday: Foreigner

Did you know? It's said that founder Mick Jones came up with the band's name based on the fact that the original lineup comprised three Americans and three Brits, making someone a foreigner no matter where the band played.

Sunday: The Happy Together Tour

Did you know? The Happy Together Four, featuring five 1960s and '70s nostalgia acts, is named for the 1967 hit single from The Turtles' album of the same name. Released in February, the song knocked The Beatles' "Penny Lane" out of the No. 1 slot for three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.

Monday: Joe Louis Walker (The Bessie Smith Strut)

Did you know? Walker played for President George Bush's inauguration and the induction of B.B. King into the Kennedy Center Honors in an audience that included President Bill Clinton.

Tuesday: Chris Tomlin

Did you know? Tomlin's version of the song "Indescribable" was used as the official wake-up call for Mission Specialist Patrick Forrester on a space shuttle mission in June 2007.

Wednesday: The Band Perry

Did you know? Siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry were discovered in 2008 by Garth Brooks' manager, Bob Doyle. Their self-titled debut album was co-produced by Nathan Chapman, the Lee University alumnus who has won Grammy Awards for his work with Taylor Swift.

Thursday: Charlie Wilson

Did you know? The former lead vocalist for the Gap Band has been nominated for six Grammy Awards as a solo artist. In 2009, he was named Billboard Magazine's No. 1 Adult R&B Artist.

June 15: The Goo Goo Dolls

Did you know? "Iris," from the "City of Angels" soundtrack, propelled the band to stardom. In interviews, vocalist/guitarist John Rzeznik has said he was experiencing serious bouts of writer's block when he was approached about the song and was on the verge of quitting the band days before he wrote it.

June 16: Lauren Alaina

Did you know? The "American Idol" runner-up made her Grand Ole Opry debut on June 9, 2011. She has toured with Jason Aldean on his "My Kinda Party" tour, which ended in May, and is opening on select dates for Sugarland's "In the Hands of the Fans" tour.

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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