published Thursday, June 5th, 2014

In Tune: A critique of Riverbend's side-stage neglect

Nikki Hill. Paul Hadfield & The McCoys. The Weeks. Earphunk. Rahsaan Barber & Everyday Magic.

Before last week, I had no idea who any of these artists/bands were. That's a real shame because they're among the 82 acts that will play at Riverbend between Friday evening and June 14, and I only just now discovered how amazing they are.

As a consequence, I feel like I'm behind the excitement curve. Partly, that's a consequence of how Riverbend is marketed since, for obvious reasons, event organizer Friends of the Festival devotes a lot of time and attention to highlighting the big-ticket artists who will serve as each evening's headliners.

It makes sense. That's where the majority of the booking money goes, so it's a smart decision to shine a spotlight on the names people recognize. After all, those are the ones with the requisite drawing power to bring in the kind of crowds necessary to buy truckloads of chicken-on-a-stick and Bud Light.

In the months leading up to opening night, organizers have been unveiling Coke Stage acts like benevolent Samaritans handing out loaves of bread to famished street urchins. Each headliner release is accompanied by a secondary announcement of a side-stage artist, but for the most part, organizers place the lion's share of attention on who will spend 90 minutes on the barge each night.

The thing is, those marquee acts are quite literally the 10 percent of the iceberg above the surface. The other 90 percent of the schedule -- all the side-stage acts who traditionally have been responsible for my favorite festival moments -- get short shrift. That's like describing your stay at the Ritz-Carlton as "fantastic" but only citing the water pressure.

If you don't take the time, as fellow staffer Barry Courter and I have, to dig into the schedule and do some Spotify research, you could easily miss some truly amazing music. No wonder so many people camp out for hours for the headliner, oblivious to the worthy musicians playing all around them.

Part of the joy of live music, especially at a festival, is the joy of discovery, the happenstance encounters that surprise and enlighten you. But who says chance couldn't use a helping hand now and then?

If you'd like to get a bit of a preview of what's to come in the next nine days, check out Barry's and my curated Riverbend playlists at ChattanoogaNow.com/riverbend. And if we missed something great, let us know by email.

See you down there.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

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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