published Thursday, February 13th, 2014

In Tune: Riverbend follows the radio masses

Two weeks ago, I wrote that I was staggeringly underwhelmed by what I described as yet another crop of predictable headliner announcements for this year's Riverbend Festival.

I need to clarify my point.

In the last week, I've been approached by friends and strangers who gave me enthusiastic high-fives over my assessment. They grumbled about how they, too, were frustrated by Friends of the Festival's formulaic approach and wondered why the Coke Stage selections continue to disappoint them.

"Why can't they book people I want to hear?" they lamented.

There's one simple answer: Because that would be an idiotic business decision.

Riverbend is not a democracy designed to protect the rights of musical minorities. It's a glaring example of majority rule.

It's not as if festival organizers set out to disappoint you, but if you're not pleased by the emphasis on country music, classic and Christian rock headliners, then rest assured, you're not the target audience.

Friends of the Festival is a nonprofit, but it has to book acts that will sell pins. The best way to do that is to appeal to the masses, because they're the ones who buy the quantities of beer and funnel cakes necessary to keep the lights on, the speakers cranked and pay for the side stages, where -- let's be honest -- the most interesting music is found anyway.

If you want to know who the average Chattanoogan most wants to see on the Coke Stage, take a closer look at the city's radio stations.

According to SNL Kagan Research statistics, the Scenic City's top revenue-producing stations in 2012 were the country gentlemen at US101 and classic rockers KZ-106. And who was the winner for Best Local Radio Station in last year's Best of the Best Awards? Christian station J103.

Suddenly, Friends of the Festival's selections make a lot more sense, right?

The day my column was published, I ran into Friends of the Festival's executive director, Chip Baker, and braced myself for a scathing rebuttal. Instead, he casually remarked that I'm "a hard guy to please."

Here's the thing, Chip, don't worry about me. If you book my choices, you'll have 300 people cheering for Freelance Whales or Matt and Kim on a mostly empty Coke Lawn.

It would be an utter disaster, and even if it isn't my cup of tea, Riverbend means too much to too many people for me to want to see it fail.

Besides, we don't have the Dumpster space to dispose of that much uneaten chicken-on-a-stick.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree or 423-757-6205.

Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

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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