published Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Fireworks accent festival's finale


by Lauren Gregory
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Dan Henry A fireworks display finalizes the 2009 Riverbend Festival on Saturday, June 13th.

Don't let the quiet on Riverside Drive today fool you.

Chattanooga's waterfront was anything but quiet Saturday night as Little Richard rocked the Coca-Cola Stage and fireworks burst in the sky above to signify the end of the annual nine-day Riverbend Festival.

The pyrotechnics show drew many festivalgoers out for the evening, including Tony Grote, of Ooltewah, who said he lined up at 4 p.m. to get good seats for the late-night show.

"I just love the fireworks every year," said Mr. Grote, who has attended since the festival began 29 years ago.

For others, the evening's highlight was the razzle-dazzle of a flamboyant, 76-year-old rock 'n' roll legend.

"I'm excited to see (Little Richard), even though he wears more makeup than me," Knoxville resident Teloir Bradley said with a laugh.

Little Richard opened with "Good Golly Miss Molly."

He emerged in a gold and silver metallic suit and his signature sunglasses.

"I want you to holler," he yelled to the audience. "Give it all to me, I can take it."

As he looked out over the crowd, Riverbend Executive Director Chip Baker said he was pleased with this year's turnout. If the downturn in the economy affected attendance at all, it wasn't by much, he said.

"We've had huge numbers," he said, estimating that total attendance was close to the 650,000 patrons the festival usually welcomes, with each patron visiting an average of 4.2 times.

John Rolling, who has sold John and Barb's Original Kettle Korn at Riverbend for the past decade, agreed that crowds seemed to remain steady. However, he said, the money wasn't coming out of their pockets as readily once they entered the festival gates.

"It's probably going to be an off year for us," Mr. Rolling said. "I think the economy is taking a toll on business here, because we've seen some pretty good crowds, but they're just not coming to the booth."

Another noticeable trend was the calm in this year's crowd, according to both festival organizers and police.

"This has been one of the smoothest years I can ever remember," said Sallie Beckes, who has been marketing director for Friends of the Festival for the past 11 years.

Chattanooga police Lt. David Roddy, who oversaw Riverbend security operations, also said things seemed to have "gone very smoothly."

Gerald Brown, of Chattanooga, who arrived for Saturday's festivities by boat, said he was sad to see Riverbend come to an end. At the same time, he said, he's ready to start resting up for next year.

"I can't take no more," Mr. Brown said. "By the time it gets to this day, I'm wore out."

Because fireworks were thrown off the Walnut Street Bridge two years ago and a disorder broke out in Coolidge Park last year, officers congregated on the North Shore on Saturday evening "just to make sure to prevent any problems," Lt. Roddy said.

But all in all, he said, there were few disruptions all week. Despite some instances of underage drinking, he said, "we haven't really seen the alcohol-related problems we've had in the past."

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