Pull out your hankies, fellow 'benders, because this will be my final blog. Tomorrow is my birthday, and I want to start the celebration early by demoting myself to regular attendee so I can enjoy myself like a normal person instead of reporting.
I could easily do as I've done in previous years and write about the fireworks. But if you've ever read a description of a pyrotechnic display (even one as magnificent as Riverbend's finale), you realize that, no matter how extravagant the language that's used, it still just a lot of words about things going "pop" and "bang." No thanks. Next year, perhaps.
Instead, being a veritable resident of the riverfront during the course of the festival, I am bound to see and absorb more instances of the bizarre or noteworthy than I can possibly find room for in my column. So instead of the aforementioned onomatopoeia, I've dug through my notebooks, and assembled a list of five nuggets of wisdom gleaned from my Riverbending experience.
1. Men apparently will seize any excuse to show their stomachs to the world. The moment it got remotely hot (which was the second I left my apartment), I saw guys strutting about with sweaty navels on display for all to see. It didn't seem to matter if they were in shape or not (most were more pot than belly, as a matter of fact).
Whether they realized it or not, they were all breaking the rules, as outlined in the festival pamphlet. The first line of the terms of admission reads: Shirt and shoes are required. (That's listed before the restriction to weapons, by the way.) Then again, there's an obvious loophole in that it doesn't say you're required to actually WEAR the shirt, just that it's required. So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's clever, not gross.
2. Beating the heat is a game of mental acrobatics. I've refrained as much as possible from discussing the heat this year because I realized that no one, including me, wants to read about my griping. Once I stopped obsessing about it and accepted that the heat was going to be there, like it or not, my enjoyment of the festival increased exponentially. This, I think, is the secret so many of you have had nailed down for years when I was making myself thoroughly miserable. The same applies to rain, as well, by the way.
3. Funk is not as contagious as I thought. Whether it was while watching Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, That 1 Guy, Milele Roots, Gurufish or any other funkalicious group perform, my notebook is full of surprised observations that "not everyone is on their feet." How anyone can hear the outrageously dirty funk of two bass guitars dancing through rolling solos and still be glued to their seats is beyond me, but plenty of people seemed inoculated to the funk. Their loss, I say, because funk is a genre about movement, both in the music, and in the listener.
4. People need to be more willing to take chances in their musical choices. This is a long-standing gripe of mine, but as often as I was pleased by excellent attendance for local artists (the best examples of which being for Milele Roots and Slim Pickins), I was just as often surprised by poor attendance. That the CSO's headlining collaboration didn't fill the Coca-Cola Stage lawn was a tremendous shame. Nearly everyone I've talked to about the anemic showing has suggested people were reluctant to take a chance on a mystery rock revue. Had they gone out on a limb, they would have experienced a truly spectacular show that many people I've spoken with agree was one of the best they'd ever seen.
5. Local musicians are just as capable of raising the bar as the big name headliners. Rick Bowers slayed Saturday with his showcase of swampy Southern rock flavored by Cajun/Western swing instrumentation. John Lathim attracted a great showing with his eerie vocal similarity to Gordon Lightfoot. Everywhere they roved, the New Binkley Brothers drew a crowd as soon as one of them launched into a high, energetic wail to accompany their rollicking old-time music. The Two Taverns Variety Show was like the local music equivalent of a delicious Spanish tapas restaurant. AJ Valcarcel showed he could easily hold a crowd at the Bud Light Stage (his vocals even impressed a vendor I was with, who couldn't even see him). I could go on and on.
Clearly, this year's emphasis on local artists was a tremendous success. Riverbend always does a good job of putting local artists on display, but this year, it really struck me how they seemed to pull out all the stops and place them on even bigger stages and later time slots. Every time I saw a crowd gathered en masse for a local musician, it made my pride for the local scene swell just a little more.
So, nuggets of wisdom having been delivered, my job here is done. Despite my normal apprehensiveness about the sometimes trying conditions for Riverbend, I have uniformly enjoyed the experience in ways I never expected. I can honestly say I'm excited about next year. Hopefully, in the meantime, some of you have been bit by the local music bug. If so, I'll see you out there on the local scene. If not, 'til next year.