published Thursday, June 11th, 2009

McKenna: Growing up with Riverbend


by Brittney McKenna

Having lived in Chattanooga all my life, I grew up with Riverbend. Some of my fondest memories can be traced back to those nine hot days in early June.

My first memories are not of music or crowds but of phenomena also undeniably associated with the Riverbend experience: thunderstorms. I can remember standing under the Market Street Bridge clinging to my parents’ legs while lightning flashed and thunder crashed around us.

So far so good on weather this year (let’s hope I don’t jinx it).

In between storms, we picnicked with friends and I was blissfully oblivious to the fact that parents are not perceived as “cool.”

That all ended too soon, unfortunately, when I hit that terrible time more commonly known as middle school. My parents trailed about 10 feet behind me as I giggled with friends, scowling at them through my braces if they got too close.

The days of clinging to their legs officially were over (unless, of course, I needed money).

A couple years later came high school, driver’s licenses and what felt like freedom (key word being “felt”). At the time, there was nothing more exciting than being out until midnight with no blood-related adults in sight.

Now coming home from college for the summer, Riverbend feels more like home than anything else. It’s something I know like the back of my hand, which is a comfort in this transition from youth to the “real world.”

A standout this year was seeing Willie Nelson, which was something I swore I would do before I died ... or, more likely, he did.

While talking with Dead Confederate lead singer Hardy Morris and bassist Brantley Senn, it was clear that Mr. Nelson was a big draw for everyone.

“Man, I wish we were playing on Willie’s night,” Mr. Senn lamented. “But I heard the Commodores soundcheck. Their synths have definitely still got it.”

Riverbend has been a coming-of-age tale told in short, yearly installments. I’ve seen a little fear and a lot of fun, swooned over first loves and tended to first heartbreaks, watched a lot of fistfights and eaten even more funnel cakes.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but if there is anything I’ve learned from Riverbend, it’s that standing in the heat while the lady next to you sways and spills her beer on your shoes is usually worth it if you go home knowing you saw great music with a few thousand of your closest friends.

And I won’t forget that music. My Riverbend career has seen a lot, from (once) rising stars Nickel Creek to Southern rock legends The Allman Brothers. And, when just about any band famous in the ’70s or ’80s comes up in conversation, odds are I can proudly say, “Oh yeah, I saw them at Riverbend.”

Going to Riverbend? Take your kids. They may be too young to “get” it, or they may be old enough to decide that you’re not as cool as that eighth-grade boy with gelled hair and cargo shorts. But be patient. If they’re like me, they’ll thank you for it one day.

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