By Casey Phillips
Despite a soggy start and a performer lineup that received mixed reviews from festivalgoers, Riverbend 2007 saw high attendance and received generally good marks from attendees and vendors alike.
Daily attendance was about 80,000, which would mean a nine-day total exceeding the 650,000 predicted, Friends of the Festival Executive Director Chip Baker said.
"We started off slower with the rain on (June 8), but we've gained momentum throughout the week, as opposed to the last couple of years where we started off strong and lost it," Mr. Baker said. "Obviously, if you want to get rid of a four-month drought, you just need to have Riverbend."
The festival's lineup of concert performers received mixed opinions. Fans of rock 'n' roll said the festival was leaning decidedly country in its selections, while country fans claimed the opposite. Mr. Baker defended the lineup, however, suggesting the high turnouts were proof there was something to appeal to fans of all genres.
Lyn and Frankie Wade, of Ringgold, Ga., said this year's Coca-Cola Stage headliners were weaker than those in previous years, citing The Steve Miller Band's performance Thursday as the only major draw for them.
"Usually, there's somebody five nights who we really want to see, but this year, it's just the one night," Mrs. Wade said as she and her husband; her son, Josh; and his friend Jeffrey Wade camped in prime position to see Mr. Miller's performance.
"They need to bring back more classic rock," she said.
The popularity of this year's lineup will be evaluated by a committee in August. Friends of the Festival staff members have taken notes throughout the event, and those notes, along with customer surveys, will be used in coming weeks to evaluate the festival's reception, Mr. Baker said.
Totals for concession sales were unavailable Friday, but Mr. Baker said the numbers are expected to be at or better than in previous years.
Food vendors, with only a few exceptions, reported returns consistent with past festivals, despite a slow start for several stands.
John Rollings, proprietor of John and Barb's Original Kettle Corn, said sales were put off pace by Friday's inclement weather.
"This year has been a little softer, a little bit slower pace," he said. "The heat has not been conducive to get people out early -- it's been a late-night show for most of the week."
One change that met with a variety of opinions is the management of beer wristbands, which were being administered at token booths rather than at the beer sellers, as in previous years.
Sterling Gillum, who supervised beer sales at the Bud Light tent next to the Covista Stage, said the use of bands for purposes other than beer sales confused his volunteer workers.
"Beer vendors might be told that the color for the wristbands for the night is pink, and people will be coming up with white wristbands and yellow wristbands or one-day admission wristbands," Mr. Gillum said. "They should just go to one color and stick with it, or they should abandon the wristbands completely."
Despite merchants' confusion, attendees supported the use of the bands.
"I think the beer wristbands were a good idea because people were buying beers and giving them to somebody else," said Judith Kerns, a Chattanooga resident and 15-year Riverbend veteran. "Now, if you give them to somebody else and they don't have a band on, you know they're not supposed to have them."
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