This excellent editorial echoes some of my own points in a letter to the editors. However, one small correction is needed. Friends of the Festival was incorporated June 1981 to receive the Lyndhurst festival study and planning grant by four local people: Mickey Robbins, Nelson and Deanne Irvine, and myself.
As Aretha Franklin told the crowd at Five Nights in 1981, "Music is not an outdoor sport." Why doesn't the Riverbend use the Tivoli and other venues and bring down the gates?
Here's my second graph that was left out for some reason:
"bpgd, you make some good points but considering the social desert that was downtown Chattanooga in the 1980s, I concluded then that even if my original 1980 idea of a comprehensive town festival couldn't make budget without advertisers, something was better for the city than nothing. But study the first few festivals from 1982 to 1985 or so, talk with the people who ran them, such as Walker Breland and UTC and Rufus Triplett and Hugh Moore (again this year's president of Friends of the Festival-I happened to be the first one starting June 1981)."
bpqd and Seamonkey and editorial writer, I was one of those 1982 organizers, the first one in fact, and there simply is not "something for everyone at Riverbend;" almost all the community's artists and arts orgainizations have been left out every year since the mid-80s. It is not a festival of difference and diversity, which it started out as, to celebrate ALL of the community.
bpgd, you make some good points but considering the social desert that was downtown Chattanooga in the 1980s, I concluded then that even if my original 1980 idea of a comprehensive town festival couldn't make budget without advertisers, something was better for the city than nothing. But study the first few festivals from 1982 to 1985 or so, talk with the people who ran them, such as Walker Breland and UTC and Rufus Triplett and Hugh Moore (again this year's president of Friends of the Festival-I happened to be the first one starting June 1981).
Maybe you can figure out, aside from financial starvation, why the use of the total downtown was abandoned for the limited popular programming in the gated community it has become. It is non-profit, right? I'd be optimistic; sooner or later basic cultural practices and civic needs will push the Riverbend out of its gates so the restaurants can feed all the walkers all over town. And shops will stay open.
And who knows, maybe you and I and others will create a festival fringe: rent and program dancing every night at the Tivoli and so on limited only by imagination and funds.
Riverbend diversity is a oxymoron; it excludes just about all the usual cultural arts of Chattanooga and is so discounted by the national media that even a $4 million budget gets not one mention in contrast with one weekend of a pasture gathering like Bonaroo. But cancel Riverbend--no, no, no, build on it and make it into what it started out to be.
Your day will come if you'll keep on speaking up and pushing the board and politicians and especially sponsors. Charleston would have nothing to brag about with its two Spoleto festivals if it were not for the visionary Mayor Riley, who's been mayor since it started there in 1977. Really powerful festivals are political ideas and they take politicians to lead and nurture them. And they need groups like the Allied Arts organization to support instead of helping to kill Riverbend from the very beginning. Maybe one day your efforts will mean the entire Chattanooga Symphony will actually again play the 1812 Overture with cannons and fireworks displays instead of recorded symphony or a rock band with soap commercials. Maybe the fine CSO musicians will not be heard once a year as expensive back players for some country or rock band.
All it takes is an idea and a few hundred thousand people to buy the low cost pins sold everywhere, as we saw it early on, and then you don't depend on selling everything in sight to commercials. Keep the faith, man!
The Beach Boys were one of the first of three bands to sing at the first 1982 Riverbend pre-festival concerts that summer at Engel Stadium as a fund raising program that proved very costly and almost ended the new festival before its opening in late August at Ross' Landing. Rick Springfield and the Commodores were the other two concerts, if my memory is right.
Nice story, Barry. And thanks to the determined and visionary Hugh Moore for a more accurate history that has been told for a long time. I expect, Hugh, that it is you who finally decided to get the 1982 starting date right. Lots of us thank you; the fictional history had become a painful joke. As you know from my records we once reviewed, we started working on the idea in May 1980 stemming from my visit to Charleston's Spoleto Festival, proposed the idea to the Lyndhurst May 5, 1981; used the immediate $23,000 grant that summer (5 Nights was completely isolated from our work and not Riverbend's precursor) for seminars and studies (these will be available in part in my forthcoming 1990 book on all this) and Mayor Rose's visit to Charleston; then used the approx. $70,000 Lyndhurst grant to generate sponsor confidence and a working board that Walker Breland took over in early 1982 and amazingly these dreamers put on a town festival, after a huge multi-concert loss, in August 1982 at Ross' Landing. The first several years saw festival's cultural and economic effects throughout the downtown. What's next? I continue to believe a more visionary Riverbend board will once again open up the festival to the entire downtown now that there are so many new venues, especially restaurants that now lose money from food sales during the festival, unlike virtually every other town festival in the world. I still believe the two Charleston Spoleto festivals model is a far more powerful civic energizer than the Chattanooga Riverbend model. I also believe the Lyndhurst's and other sponsors support of this kind of comprehensive town festival model was the initial energy that first moved Chattanooga ahead to the lively, animated downtown we have today. Yet the arts scene needs revitalization, and using the Symphony as a rock backup band is not the best example of orchestral music's power. To me, the Riverbend's evolution, and future, is a fascinating story and one that has many mothers and fathers who are proud of what their baby was, is, and still can become with more inclusion of all arts and venues...which the New York Times might even list in its summer festivals section. Many stages are now ready for the players and an artistic director to blend all these complex elements into the festival art form that better reflects the special qualities of Chattanooga and its natural wonders.