I’ve discovered there’s a certain sense of smirking superiority that comes with experiencing Riverbend multiple times.
When I first arrived to Chattanooga in 2007, Riverbend was one of my first assignments. I was so new to the city that I wasn’t even sure which direction to head on Market Street to reach the river. Once I got there, I experienced near-continuous sensory overload trying to make heads or tails of the experience.
As the sun sets on my fifth year covering the festival, however, I look back on that first year with the same disdain native New Yorkers heap on tourists gawking at the lights in Times Square.
Just like navigating Fat Man’s Squeeze at Rock City, riding the Incline Railway or watching the otters being fed at the Tennessee Aquarium, Riverbend is something every Chattanoogan needs to experience.
Likewise, there are certain things every Riverbender needs to do at the festival to justify ticking it off their bucket list. Here are seven:
1. Eat a chicken-on-a-stick. Of all the normal festival fare at Riverbend, this chicken/biscuit combo is far and away the most distinctive. Just remember, the stick is not part of the meal.
2. Strut the Bessie Smith Strut. Technically, it’s not a required part of the experience, but given the name, everyone should try putting a little glide in their stride at least once. After the laughter dies away, reward yourself with barbecue.
3. Take an end-to-end stroll. From the Unum Stage to the rides in the children’s area, there’s a lot to see and do at the festival. The only way to see it all is to get out of your lawn chair and put your feet on the pavement. Just be sure to leave someone behind to guard your territory on the Coke Lawn (see No. 6).
4. Watch a show at each stage. Yes, the Coke barge is where the big boys play, but everyone should experience a wide range of artists at Riverbend, from a singer/songwriter on the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union Stage to a classic rocker on the Bud Light Stage.
5. Beat the heat. If temperatures miraculously stay below 90, you’re missing a crucial part of the festival, namely a cramped wrist from trying to cool off using only a cardboard fan. Think of the sweat stains as a stamp on your passport.
6. Stage an Alamo-like defense on the Coke lawn. When it comes to the best headliner viewing locations, Riverbenders can be more committed than the guards at Buckingham Palace. No Riverbend experience is truly complete until you’ve engaged in a fistfight over a few square feet of grass you laid claim to at 8 a.m.
7. Experience a third-degree sunburn. It’s summer, and you’re trying to wrap your mind around how to open the hot-sauce container while juggling both a chicken-on-a-stick and a beer. Unfortunately, the UV index is at 9, and you’ve forgotten to wear sunscreen for hours. Welcome to the family; wear your new red tint with pride.
Granted, you’ll have to wait until next year to check off No. 2, but there are still two days left to work your way through the rest of the list. Hop to.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...