published Friday, May 13th, 2011

Phillips: Riverbend Coke Stage lineup all fizzle, no bang

Snakes and sparklers
The fireworks scene from 2001's "Joe Dirt."

In the 2001 redneck comedy “Joe Dirt,” the eponymous Mr. Dirt meets Kicking Wing, the American Indian owner of a failing fireworks stand. Wing’s problem, Joe explains, is that he sells only the most bland items, snakes and sparklers. “Where’s the good stuff, man?” Joe asks. “This is the good stuff,” Wing replies. Joe’s response? “Are you nuts dude? You need stuff that goes ‘boom,’ that explodes.”

With only 28 days until the start of Riverbend, I’m beginning to wish someone had delivered a copy of “Joe Dirt” to the offices of Friends of the Festival because this year’s Coke Stage lineup is all snakes and sparklers. Unless you’re a country fan, there’s not a single Roman candle or firecracker in sight.

Every year, I await the Coke Stage announcements with great anticipation. Since I started covering the festival in 2007, there have been at least two headliners a year I’ve been excited to see. Given that this marks the event’s 30th anniversary, my hopes were much higher than normal. I expected a bag of M-80s; instead, I got a matchbox of Snap-N-Pops.

In December, there was a great deal of hoopla that Country Music Association darling Miranda Lambert was Riverbend’s most expensive booking ever. Given the kind of year she’s been enjoying (four CMAs and a Grammy), she’s sure to be a crowd pleaser for country fans. Ditto Alan Jackson and Kellie Pickler. In fact, this year’s lineup is probably the strongest I’ve seen in terms of representing Music Row twang.

But what about those of us who don’t know what boot scootin’ is, much less care about it?

For starters, there’s opening headliners Huey Lewis and The News, who haven’t had a Top 10 hit since 1986. The next night, we’ve got The Beach Boys, or more accurately Beach Boy, given that only one founding member, Mike Love, will be there. Other than that, there’s ex-talk-show host Brian McKnight, who doesn’t carry anywhere near the weight of appeal of recent R&B selections like Earth, Wind & Fire or even The Ohio Players, who were a side-stage act in 2008.

The only act with even a hint of appeal to younger listeners is the symphony night headliner, Pink Floyd tribute artist The Machine. Even that’s a stretch, though, since I don’t think any cover band deserves a headlining slot, even one with as killer a stage show as The Machine’s.

Now, I’m fully aware I’m not Riverbend’s target audience. Clearly, they have to book artists with a wide appeal, but personally, I feel completely left out this year. I’m not alone, either. A post on the newspaper’s Facebook page asking for thoughts on the Coke Stage lineup yielded 15 responses. At best, they were ambivalent; at worst, they expressed outright anger at the selections.

This year is Riverbend’s 30th anniversary. That’s an event that deserves show-stopping headliners who appeal to everyone, not three for fans of a single genre.

As usual, I think the best music at Riverbend will be found on the side stages, and I’ll explore more of those next week. In the meantime, I can’t help but ask, “Where are my bottle rockets?”

about Casey Phillips...

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 ...

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timesfreepress said...

Do you go to Riverbend for the fireworks or the music?

May 13, 2011 at 3:55 a.m.

I go to Riverbend to ogle scantily clad 15-year old White girls...

May 13, 2011 at 7:36 a.m.
Salsa said...

I don't go to Riverbend.

May 13, 2011 at 8:49 a.m.
chatttn said...

Ah yes, Chattanooga's annual "Sweat Fest". Why does it always have to be in the hottest part of Summer? I guess Winter would be worse though. Oh well, at least it's great for Chattanooga revnue.

May 13, 2011 at 10:02 a.m.
bigbearzzz said...

Weak lineup...Bonaroo is making us look stupid....Not one decent contemporary pop or rock star on the list...but hey all the country folk should love the lineup...Can we get some younger people involved in making the selections of bands instead of all the 40-60 year old board members down at the Friends of the Festival please?! Kinda surprise they didnt get Reba..although in I'm sure they tried....

May 13, 2011 at 11:14 a.m.
NorthChatter said...

chatttn...you must not remember when they had it in August...June is hot as hell, but still an improvement over the original Riverbend dates.

bigbearzzz...while I don't disagree with your statement on overall quality, Bonnaroo charges over $200 for a ticket (for one weekend of music).

Riverbend could book "all killer, no filler", but they can't do it for $30 (for 9 days). My attitude is, "you get what you pay for"...I can usually find a couple of band I want to see, so it is worth $30.

But I will say, I am "underwhelmed" by the talent on the main stage this year (even more than usual). Of course, most of the "good stuff" is on the smaller stages anyway.

Kudos on the Joe Dirt reference Casey...very appropo! "Life's a garden, dig it!"

May 13, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.
Stewwie said...

NorthChatter is right...for $30, Riverbend is a steal...even if you only go for a couple of nights. If you want to see nothing but the hottest, most current acts, then go pay top dollar to see them elsewhere. Otherwise, quit complaining about it.

The Riverbend headhunters are typically going to book their main acts that the middle-aged folks are going to want to see anyway. They generally have more disposable income than the younger folks and will thus keep the beer vendors happy. Also, the young adults and teenagers still attend Riverbend anyway, though the teenagers typically just linger in the road blocking all the foot traffic.

To answer the Times Free Press' original question, I go to Riverbend for BOTH the music and the fireworks. The past few final night acts haven't been my cup of tea, but I've gone anyway just to have a good seat for the fireworks (and spend the last of my tokens on some good Kettlecorn popcorn and Italian ice).

May 14, 2011 at 5:57 p.m.
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