published Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Riverbend 2.0: Time for a reboot

Tyler Hubbard with the band Florida Georgia Line shakes hands with the crowd as the band performs on the opening night of the 2013 Riverbend Festival Friday at Ross's Landing.
Tyler Hubbard with the band Florida Georgia Line shakes hands with the crowd as the band performs on the opening night of the 2013 Riverbend Festival Friday at Ross's Landing.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

The Riverbend Festival has been the staple of Chattanooga summer entertainment for 31 years. It began as a five-day festival and has grown to a nine-day, $3.5 million business. Along the way, it went from being $400,000 in debt to having a cash reserve.

But the festival is tired. Maybe it's time to rethink how the days and acts are billed. Maybe it's even time to scale it down from nine days back to four or five, and maybe move it out of the time-frame of Bonnaroo.

The uproar over Cee Lo Green's recent performance at Riverbend is a case in point for reorganization and clear billing. Liberally laced with profanity and punctuated by the star baring his not-insubstantial bottom to the crowd, Cee Lo's performance ran smack dab into a culture fight about what has been billed as a family festival.

But at the same time, Chattanoogans are pretty consistently calling for the festival to bring in top-drawer acts of today -- not yesteryear.

Cee Lo is not a family-oriented artist, but he is one of the hottest entertainers in television and music today. Appealing to both today's rappers and old rockers who loved Motown, he's hauled five Grammies in the past three years. He's a perfect illustration of the ongoing concern event organizers face.

They have to line up talented, affordable and available performers who need to be well known to the general public. Green fit that bill with hit singles like "Crazy," and his contributions as a panelist on TV's "The Voice" talent competition.

But his recorded performance history makes it somewhat ridiculous to expect, even if he promises it, wholesome on-stage behavior. His best work, while undeniably catchy, has been sanitized well before it hits the public airwaves.

The public does bear some responsibility for screening what they plan to expose their children to. That said, perhaps festival organizers might label their nights a bit better, too.

The event's annual Faith and Family Night, featuring Christian artists, no beer sales and an admittance fee drop to $5, is one way to do that, or at least to do the best that can be done to discourage things most people probably agree children ought not to hear or see (and that many people, particularly older people, do not wish to hear or see). Also known as "Sweet Tea Night," this is a popular evening at the festival, albeit with generally lower attendance than a typical festival night.

Still, kudos to festival organizers for not making the whole span of party nights Lawrence Welk-like -- something that seemed threatened for a few years as classic rock and pop performers of the 1960s and '70s died off or grew so old that they prompt more jokes about the festival's lineup than excitement.

Fortunately radio and the Internet have spawned far edgier stars here. Let's not forget Kid Rock's show a few years ago.

But it's not fair to shout down those edgy shows, and it's not reasonable to expect every performance at Riverbend to be to everyone's liking.

Maybe it's time for a night to showcase the rude and raucous. And put a prominent warning sticker on it.

Riverbend is good for the city. And it's fun. The $32 a pin price for even just five nights is an incredible bargain. But one size entertainment does not fit all, and not every night needs to be family night.

Think outside the norm, Chattanooga.

5
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Hunter_Bluff said...

I've only experienced RiverBend for a couple of years now, as a downtown resident. But the crowds seemed way down this year versus last, the buzz on the artists was low (CeeLo was talked about much more after than before his performance) and the number of boats watching the fireworks appeared to be about 1/2 to 2/3 the number present last year. Anyone have data on attendance?

And didn't Eric Crouch and Alaina ? go on to win many awards last year after Riverbend showing our organizers can pick rising stars who are locally popular very well.

June 16, 2013 at 9:15 a.m.
potcat said...

Lets put a warning sticker on Pam Sohn editorials, Beware "Half Truths and Bigot Lies" - "Rude and Raucous" etc...

The Manchester Times Editor ran right along the lines of your teabillies editorial and printed Bennetts cartoon.

Sooo lazy and all so sad, will be needing a job soon.

June 16, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.
jjmez said...

There's been attempts to destroy the Riverbend festival from the very beginning. I do believe it's because from the beginning it was promoted as a cultural event attempting to promote diversity in the city and bring people of all races, social and economic standing together.

June 17, 2013 at 6:23 p.m.
jjmez said...

Meant to add: There were efforts earlier on to make the Riverbend a Whites Only event, just along with all downtown events taking place. Even Nightfall.

June 17, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Everyone is done with this, except the handful of people who personally collect money off of it. If they're not smart enough to know which way the wind blows, then it's no wonder business is dying in downtown Chattanooga.

KZ106 is still playing from the same lineup they used when I was 13 years old. Those acts are too pricey to "be affordable" for a Riverbend stage. Are there any brains in the local entertainment industry?

When it comes to assessing the "money made" off of Riverbend, perhaps we should take into account the money lost when downtown regulars stay away because the festival is on. In Chattanooga, you either go to Riverbend, or you don't; and, if you don't, then you stay away from downtown for about three weeks. That is, stay away when: they are setting up, they are running the festival, and when they are cleaning up afterwards.

Meanwhile, a few people make money charging exorbitant sums to everyone to see nothing.

If you can't make money selling cold beer on a hot day, then we can't help the business class in Chattanooga. Get real. Wake up. Is there anything that looks successful or progressive or intelligent about these services offered at Riverbend? Entertainment is a service. If Riverbend was parked next to a yuppie neighborhood that actually had Chattanooga residents in it, then people would complain like hell to have it shut down.

No doubt, pin prices will go up next year. We'll get nothing out of it then, too. A few more years of this, and it'll be a carnival. As it is, Riverbend has long had a reputation of being little more than a mullet freak show with a $5 cup-too-small of beer on a too-hot day.

If hold your Riverbend pin up to your ear, you can hear a band going out of business.

June 18, 2013 at 8:13 a.m.
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