June 6-14 • 21st Century Waterfront, Chattanooga, TN
Citing lackluster response, Riverbend organizers said the silent disco that filled the final time slot on the Bud Light Stage opening weekend will not make a return to the festival Friday and Saturday.
The disco allowed up to 100 guests to rent headphones for $5 to listen and dance along to music being produced live by local DJs.
Despite selling out of the headphones on opening night, the response the rest of the weekend wasn't enthusiastic enough to warrant a repeat. Organizers haven't given up on the idea, however, and there's a possibility a tweaked version of the disco will appear at Riverbend next year, said festival talent and production coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller.
Maybe it's because it seems so rock 'n' roll - and they like it - but Riverbenders clearly enjoy breaking the rules. Well, one of them, at least.
As per the event's terms of admission, which are printed on schedule brochures as well as on the festival website, recording live performances is "prohibited by terms of contracts, therefore, camcorders and audio equipment are not allowed."
But search for "Riverbend Chattanooga" on YouTube, and any illusion of the ban's sanctity goes right out the window.
As of noon Wednesday, videos were already available for 2014 headliners Gary Allan and Widespread Panic as well as several of this year's side stage artists, including Rokaholix, Paul Hadfield & The McCoys and hot shot country duo Dan + Shay.
While recording shows technically is forbidden, Riverbend talent and production coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller said near-universal ownership of camera-equipped smart phones makes the rule more of a "soft ban."
"We try our best to enforce it, but everyone in the whole crowd has a cellphone," he said. "There's no way to nail them all, but you try to keep it covered as best we can and let them know it's not permitted. If they decide to come in and do it, we'll ask them not to, and usually they put the phones up."
Disregarding of the recording guidelines has been ongoing for quite some time. Videos are available online of performances by many past Riverbend headliners, including The Black Crowes (2008) and Jars of Clay (2007). A video is even available from Hank Williams Jr.'s opening night performance in 2006, just a year after YouTube was founded and a year before the release of the first iPhone.
Fuller said many of the artists he books have specific contract clauses requesting that organizers emphasize a recording ban, but the seriousness about the practice varies. Some bands, such as Gov't Mule, The Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic, actually encourage fans to record and share their performances.
"I saw some really nice recording rigs at Widespread [on Saturday]," Fuller said. "One guy had a pretty elaborate setup that fit in a little briefcase. They searched it at the gate, and it was fine, so they let him come in with it."
Early Wednesday afternoon, Fuller had just finished wrapping up the unload for the evening's headliner, classic rockers Boston. The band's five semi-trailers stage setup is a festival record, he said, but if lead guitarist and founder Tom Scholz has his way, no recordings of the show will make it to the Internet.
"Mr. Scholz is extremely private with his business," Fuller explained.
For artists who play anywhere other than the Coke Stage, however, the sentiment toward recording tends to be more favorable.
A recording of Georgian progressive bluegrass sextet Seven Handle Circus' cover of Montell Jordan's R&B classic "This Is How We Do It" was posted just a day after their show Sunday on the Bud Light Stage. Other videos have been uploaded of the group's performances at Rhythm & Brews and the Riverfront Nights concert series, which is also overseen by Riverbend organizer Friends of the Festival.
The band wasn't aware some in the crowd were stealth-recording them, said guitarist/vocalist Shawn Spencer, but even if the quality isn't great, YouTube videos benefit everyone involved.
"It feels good, as a fan, to be able to capture a show and have that memento you made to share with your friends," he said. "Plus, any exposure from anyone who is excited to see us and post a video ... is probably a good thing."
John Phillips, rhythm guitarist with Knoxville-based blues-y indie rockers The Black Cadillacs, said he hoped to see plenty of upraised lenses when his band kicked things off Wednesday on the Bud Light Stage.
Sometimes, he said, it's better not to follow the rules.
"We would love for live stuff to be recorded and played," Phillips said. "That's the idea, to have it out there. That's the absolute best way to introduce ourselves to new people."
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.