As the first warm strains of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” resonated over the Riverbend crowd Sunday night, you could hear the long, collective exhale from the audience.
An almost full moon shone down for The Machine and the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera’s cover of Pink Floyd’s entire classic “Dark Side of the Moon” album on the Coca-Cola Stage.
The Machine brought Connor Blevins, 16, and his girlfriend Taylor Crump, 17, from Flat Rock, Ala., to Chattanooga. Both donned “Dark Side of the Moon” T-shirts. Blevins even had shoes painted with the album’s logo.
Though both were born decades after the classic album came out in 1973, “It’s the sound of their music I love more than anything,” said Blevins, who got into Pink Floyd three years ago. “It’s just different.”
“I don’t know how to describe it. It’s alien,” Crump echoed.
As the spacey music wafted through the air, the darkening evening brought a welcome coolness to what had been another searing, sweaty day on the riverfront.
But sweaty is good, said Mike Garren, a medic with Hamilton County Emergency Services who was working at one of the agency’s two tents at the festival.
“Its when you stop sweating that you should be worried. That’s when you could really be in trouble,” Garren said.
On Friday, Garren’s tent passed out 39 5-gallon jugs’ worth of water.
“The heat and alcohol combination can just be really bad. You’ve got to keep drinking water, even if you don’t want to,” he said
Most festivalgoers endured the heat in light shorts and sundresses. But not the City of Chattanooga Pipe Band, which marched in full sun across the scorching pavement in wool kilts, thick knee socks and long sleeves.
“You get used to it,” said leader Joe Simpson. “We have to play in the heat a lot.”
The sweltering weather also doesn’t draw away from one of the festival’s many cherished traditions: hot, fried food.
Harvell’s Chicken and Foods brings several food trucks to the festival, including the wildly popular chicken on a stick. Owner James Harvell said Riverbend has become one of the company’s most anticipated stops on its festival route from Oklahoma to Delaware.
“People find us on Facebook to ask and make sure we’re coming back next year. A lot of people come back year after year just to come get the chicken on a stick,” he said.
When asked why hundreds of people line up at the truck for long strips of skewered fried chicken, Harvell just shrugs.
“Everybody loves chicken. And it’s on a stick. People love food that comes on a stick. … That’s really the gimmick.”
Many took their fried dinners and cold beers in search of breezy spots to take a breather. The prime getaway spot, of course, was the Tennessee River.
More than two dozen boats lay at anchor in the water at the festival site Sunday.
One of those was “Pair a Dice,” a cruiser that Tonya Chastain drove 90 miles up the river from Scottsboro, Ala.
“This is the way to do it. It’s just so much fun,” said Chastain, as she relaxed barefoot on the dock.
Chastain attended the city’s first Riverbend Festival 30 years ago, and she and her husband return every year for the music, the old friends — and the new ones.
“It’s so different now,” she said. “Back then there weren’t all these fences up, and we just went out there in bathing suits. But it’s still so great. We look forward to it all year long.”