Riverbend June 13, 2012People walk beneath the Walnut Street Bridge at the Riverbend Festival on Wednesday.
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In the air-conditioned, posh interior of a 30-foot tour bus Wednesday, the members of the WTM Blues Band experienced Riverbend in a style most local artists would envy.
The band was reclining on cushioned seats drinking cold beers and chatting hours before a 7:30 p.m. down beat on the Meo Mio's Cajun Spirits Stage. Through thick, darkened windows, the sound of thousands of attendees arriving to hear headliner The Band Perry was reduced to a dull buzz.
Drummer Johnny Smith said the bus was definitely a step up from the festival standard.
"They're nice enough to provide green rooms here, but they're only called green rooms because they have grass on the bottom and a tent," he said, eliciting laughs from his fellow band mates.
"We're fortunate enough to have a bus, so we thought why not bring it down," he continued. "It adds, I think, some excitement to who's playing when you see this here."
The WTM Blues Band performed at Riverbend last year on the Bud Light Stage, and its members have played the festival numerous times as members of other bands. Even after so many appearances, however, Smith said the festival provides a welcome chance to step out and show off to a new potential audience.
"I think it does open people's eyes to what local music is about," said Smith, who also played two shows Saturday with the Chattanooga All Stars Band.
The WTM Blues Band members were among the few at the festival with a way to escape the heat, which topped out at 87 earlier in the afternoon.
It was a hot introduction to Riverbend for McMinnville, Tenn., residents Allan Walker and his girlfriend, Amanda Mayfield, both 19, who came early to get seats with prime viewing of the Coke Stage.
The early swell of crowds made more of an impression on Mayfield than the heat, but she said both were irrelevant when measured up against getting to hear The Band Perry.
"Their music just speaks to me," she said. "I'm country, I live in the country, and they're country. I just love listening to their music."
Booking the Greeneville, Tenn.-based contemporary country trio's show last December was a kind of Christmas coup, said Friends of the Festival talent and production coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller.
The Perry siblings' performance Wednesday kicked off with a new song, "Sugar, Sugar," and followed hot on the heels of an appearance last week at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville. That show was one of what Fuller said was sure to be many marquee dates for the band.
"Everyone is like, 'Lady Antebellum this and Lady Antebellum that,' but I think The Band Perry is equally as good," he said.
Fuller said he also anticipated a strong response to the linen-wrapped funk of Nashville's Here Come the Mummies who played the Bud Light Stage at 7:45. The band lived up to those expectations, smoothly snaking its way in a drum line through a massive crowd before kicking off with "Believe (In Things You Cannot See)."
At the other end of the festival grounds on the Unum Stage, another local group, Bluetastic Fangrass, also was enjoying an enthusiastic reception to a set blending Texas swing and bluegrass standards such as "The Cincinnati Rag" with covers, such as a country/pop hybrid of John Mayer's "Why Georgia."
The band combined Chattanoogans with hot-shot out-of-towners such as Nashville-based fiddler Meredith Goins and Evensville, Tenn.-based lead vocalist/guitarist Brad Frazier.
Like WTM Blues Band, Bluetastic Fangrass was set up in an air-conditioned green room, although their trailer was cramped compared to the former's bus. Nevertheless, as she prepared to take the stage, Lynn Wamp said she fully anticipated a positive experience.
"I think we do build a new audience here," she said, adding that she had performed the festival several other times.
"You never know who's out there listening. It's a good thing. I always love playing Riverbend because of that."
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...
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