published Monday, June 11th, 2012

Chattanooga's Riverbend Festival revisits the '60s

Nick Fortuna and Carl Giammarese of the Buckinghams perform on the Coca-Cola Stage as part of the Happy Together Tour.
Nick Fortuna and Carl Giammarese of the Buckinghams perform on the Coca-Cola Stage as part of the Happy Together Tour.
Photo by John Rawlston.

It was like time travel -- Riverbend in the '60s.

The shirts were tie-dyed, the flower patterns were plentiful, and the conversations -- punctuated with words like "dude" or "love" -- were excited as fans waited for bands from days gone by.

Sunday's headliner on the Coca-Cola stage was the Happy Together Tour, bringing together groovy musicians from bands The Turtles, The Monkees, Gary Puckett, The Grass Roots and The Buckinghams.

"There was a bunch of junk going on then, but there is a bunch of junk going on now," Gary Puckett said as he left his hotel Sunday afternoon. "This music is the best. It's memorable and recognizable. We are happy together."

After an introduction and personal story by legendary Chattanooga DJ Tommy Jett, who said he played the music when it was on the Billboard charts, The Buckinghams went straight into their single "Don't You Care." With hoots and cheers, the crowd reassured the duo of their love.

The Buckinghams performed "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)," "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," "Susan" and "Kind of a Drag."

Stagehands quickly tidied the stage, and The Grass Roots kicked off their blast from the past with "I'd Wait a Million Years."

Sunday evening, waiting for the show on a boat behind the stage, founding Turtles member Mark Volman said 1967's "Happy Together" was the band's biggest hit.

He and Howard Kaylan founded The Turtles in the late 1960s, he said.

"It's great to bring together older people that aren't in wheelchairs, though Gary [Puckett] could probably use one," he joked.

Volman is the chairman of the Entertainment Industry Studies program at Belmont University in Nashville.

Joining him backstage was Belmont senior and entertainment industry studies major Jenny Bartlett. She's an intern in a Belmont University class, titled Happy Together Tour, that is following the tour for the next two-and-a-half weeks to gain experience.

Though she was busy studying for her psychology class, Bartlett had a bigger assignment that night -- front-of-house sound for the concert.

"It's an incredible job-shadowing opportunity," Bartlett said. "It's a great way to learn hands-on."

On the green in front of the stage, patrons sloshed their blue jeans (and even the occasional bellbottoms, a favorite of the decade) through water that collected throughout the day's sprinkling rain. Multicolored, multipatterned umbrellas became a better identifier of people than their hidden faces.

The stage-front crush wasn't as tight as Saturday's, which gave Kimball, Tenn., native Carolyn Grider a bit more room in her chair. She held down their spots while her husband went to explore the riverfront festival site.

"He's more of a sports guy," she said. "I'm into this music."

Grider has seen all the acts in the show at least once except for The Monkees, though she loved the group's television show, she said. "The Monkees" ran from 1966 to 19668 on NBC.

"It was a time of big change in music; electric instruments were just introduced," Grider said. "It was an age of hippies, though I was definitely not one of those."

To find a solid definition of a "hippie" in Sunday's crowd was almost impossible. Corey Mantooth and Candace Hicks, of Riceville, Tenn., wore their tie-dyed swag -- Mantooth's shirt even sported a peace symbol.

"I'm a bit of hippie, a bit of a biker -- and all rock 'n' roll," he said.

"This music has soul," Hicks added. "If you have to ask what it is, then you don't get it."

Another self-proclaimed hippie waiting for showtime was Kristina Woods, 18, even though she's about two generations too young for the heyday of the "Happy Together" bands.

She said her father introduced her to '60s "hippie" music.

"I still like today's music, but I prefer this kind instead," Woods said.

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