published Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Chasing ‘Young’ crowd: Booking alternative band as headliner gives Riverbend some indie cred

Young the Giant is tonight's headliner.
Young the Giant is tonight's headliner.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Riverbend 2014

June 6-14 • 21st Century Waterfront, Chattanooga, TN

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IF YOU GO

* What: Young the Giant

* When: 9:30 p.m. tonight

* Where: Coca-Cola Stage

* Admission: One-day wristband ($26)

TONIGHT’S SCHEDULE

Coke Stage

9:30 p.m. Young the Giant

Bud Light Stage

5:30 p.m. The Bohannons

7 p.m. The Weeks

Volkswagen Stage

5:45 p.m. Rock Skool Chattanooga

7:15 p.m. Austin Nickels Band

TVFCU Stage

6 p.m. Function with a C

7:30 p.m. Mike McDade

9 p.m. Pack of Wolves

Unum Stage

6:15 p.m. Damn Right

8:15 p.m. Arpetrio

10:45 p.m. Riverbend Fireworks Finale

Bonnaroo 2014

June 12-15 • Manchester, TN

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Before the lineup for this year’s festival was announced, Daniel DePrez was quick to dismiss Riverbend.

“Riverbend isn’t a real music festival,” says the 25-year-old, self-described “festival head” who makes trips to festivals like Bonnaroo, in Manchester, Tenn., and Wakarusa in Arkansas every year. But when he saw that Young the Giant was on the Riverbend lineup, he was pleasantly surprised.

“When I think back to five years ago, most of the acts were Christian or country artists,” he says. “When I saw that Young the Giant was playing, plus Widespread Panic and the Silent Disco, it shows that they’re actually trying.”

The indie five-piece from California plays well-produced, sunny tunes with melodic choruses and powerful, high-energy vocals. Since releasing its eponymous debut album in 2010, the band has garnered credibility on the indie music scene and enjoyed more mainstream radio play as well, gracefully straddling the line between yet-another obscure hipster band and commercial hit-makers.

The anthemic song “My Body” peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s US Alternative chart, while “Cough Syrup” and “Apartment” got radio play, too. The band’s performance at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards even earned a gushing review from Steven Morrissey, legendary frontman of the Smiths, on his music blog. “If there is any justice in the world (and we all know there isn’t),” wrote Morrissey, “Young The Giant will own most of it … Every three thousand years, a band comes along who restore that precious component of faith.”

Though comparable indie bands — like Cherub, who played on the Unum stage last year — have been on the Riverbend lineup in the past, they usually play the smaller side stages, DePrez points out. “The fact that Young the Giant are the headliners really bodes well for the future of Riverbend,” he says.

Don Hixson, who works as the program and music director at WAWL-FM, the station at Chattanooga State Community College, has been around the local music scene for years. In the ’90s, he even served a brief stint on the talent-booking committee for Friends of the Festival, which runs Riverbend.

“Back then the thought was that alternative bands that were popular when they booked them — say in December — might not even be around by the time the festival happened,” he says. “Back then your options were Kenny G and Amy Grant.”

Booking a band like Young the Giant was a stroke of a luck and a smart move, he says, both because of its draw for a younger crowd and because its sound is palatable enough to appeal to those who might not have heard of the band — which could be a large chunk of the Riverbend crowd.

“I would wager that if you went up to a lot of people in Chattanooga and asked about Young the Giant, they would go, ‘Who?’ But I think they’re going to appeal to a lot of people even though they haven’t heard of them,” he says. “I also think it was smart of them to schedule them on fireworks night, because a lot of people are going to be there anyway.”

Young the Giant are no strangers to proving themselves to unfamiliar crowds, having worked the club and festival circuit for years. The first time they played Austin’s SXSW festival in 2009, they weren’t signed to a label or named an official festival band.

“We just went there and tried to play things,” frontman Sameer Gadhia told Rolling Stone Magazine earlier this year. “I think that honestly helped. People don’t quite get us on listening to a record, but if they see us live, it’s where everything comes in full context.”

Josh Moore, 22, first heard Young the Giant during their Video Music Awards performance. He downloaded their album, burned a CD and played it in his car for the entire summer, telling everyone he knew about the band he had discovered. When a friend told him Young the Giant was playing at Riverbend, he could hardly believe it.

“Usually when there’s a band I’m interested in at Riverbend, it’s a lot more mainstream,” he says. “This is the first band they’ve had that I’m actually really excited to see.”

He says the crowd should look forward to a tightly executed live show.

“They’re a really good live band, and you can tell they’ve been playing together a long time,” he says. “They’re really clean and the lead singer has a lot of control with his voice.”

Contact Anna Lockhart at alockhart@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6578.

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