On Riverbend's second-to-last night, the Goo Goo Dolls' headlining performance was not the only reason it felt like the clock had been turned back at the riverfront.
Plenty of other bands were already playing off nostalgia before the Buffalo, N.Y.-based adult alternative trio took the Coke Stage to perform signature '90s-era power ballads such as "Iris" and "Black Balloon."
The Bud Light Stage kicked off at 6:15 with an all '90s-themed show by The Communicators, a local supergroup that made its debut last Halloween at Track 29 by covering The Beastie Boys seminal "Ill Communication" in its entirety.
About an hour before their show, turntable maestros David Webb and Scott Kent of the band Toneharm relaxed in an air-conditioned trailer with emcee Jamaal Woody. They would be joined on stage by five other musicians representing local groups such as Glowing Bordis, Digital Butter and The Nim Nims.
All three were making their Riverbend debut and were both excited and nervous, even after two months preparing a set list covering '90s songs by Alanis Morrisette, Weezer, LL Cool J and others.
"It will probably be the biggest crowd of people I'll ever be in front of, for sure," said Webb, aka State Looper. "[But] I know it'll be fine because I'm with a really talented group of musicians, so it will flow well."
The Communciators had attracted a crowd of a couple hundred by the time front man T.J. Greever kicked things off wearing a neon-green tutu, torn jeans and a Hanson T-shirt he later doffed in favor of a bare chest and a pair of fairy wings.
Throughout the crowd, people were singing along to the chorus of Clinton-era hits like Fiona Apple's "Criminal" and Radiohead's "Karma Police."
Roving old-time musicians Matt Downer and Clark Williams of The New Binkley Bros. offered festivalgoers another taste of the '90s, if from a different century.
Perched on a pair of stumps jutting from a hillside along the Riverwalk, the pair launched into a rousing performance of "Leather Britches," prompting more than a few heads to turn as a crowd filed into the nearby Tennessee Valley Credit Union Stage area.
On the TVCU stage, Nashville-based power pop/rock quartet The Features put on an equally energetic performance at 7:45 that had dozens dancing mass within arms reach of lead singer Matt Pelham.
Even the nonmusical events were a throwback to an earlier time. Earlier in the afternoon, extreme athletes raced at breakneck speeds downhill from the stage on retro longboards as part of Slide Jam, an event sponsored by L2 Boards on Market Street.
When Ogya began playing a 6 p.m. show at the Unum Stage that marked the skaters' starting point, drummer and vocalist Kofi Mawuko coerced a crowd of several dozen to get out of their seats and dance along to the music of his native Ghana.
"Rise up, please," Mawuko asked them. "I know it's hot, but let's party."
The weather Friday was humid, but temperatures remained in the low-80s most of the day, dipping into the upper 70s by the time the Goo Goo Dolls took the stage.
Anticipation for the Dolls filled the Coke Lawn in short order, but many guests said they were equally excited to see Atlanta-based Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke. By the time the band took the Bud Light Stage at 7:45, lead singer Charlie Starr's wish to see thousands of faces looking up at him likely was fulfilled, judging by the crowd assembled in the parking lot fronting the stage.
Blackberry Smoke arrived in town Thursday evening to play a trio of pre-Riverbend shows earlier in the day, including a packed noon performance at Mellow Mushroom.
After so many promotional shows, Starr said the prospect of playing to a large crowd from an actual stage would be a welcome return to form.
"Playing the radio and TV stuff is work," he said with a grin that split his lengthy mutton chop sideburns. "This is fun; this is the reward."
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 ...