New 10-day festival may become Chattanooga's signature fall event

September 26th, 2010 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Trying to get your arms around RiverRocks is like trying to lift a boulder.

In essence, RiverRocks is a 10-day fall festival and sports extravaganza starting Friday. It features 90 plus events including paddling, rowing, biking, running, climbing, hang-gliding and swimming.

On a deeper level, it is about celebrating and preserving the area's rich natural resources, according to event co-founder Mike McGauley.

Those resources include mountains, creeks and rivers, but also the events and infrastructure that have been developed over the years.

"We've tried to package it all up to promote awareness, but we also want to encourage people to get out and be active," McGauley said.

Some of the events are new; some are existing or renamed events that are officially part of RiverRocks; and some, like the 3 Sisters Festival and Wine Over Water, are existing events that reflect the spirit of RiverRocks.

Whether you are a top athlete or an amateur looking to test your mettle on a mountain, a trail or paddling the river (sitting or standing), you will find plenty of challenge here.

If you would prefer to take a leisurely hike along the river or sit in the grass and look up at the hot-air balloons, there is an event that should satisfy your wants.


* Number of food vendors: About 8

* Number of luthiers: 10

* Number of days: 10

* Number of compost barrels: 15

* Number of hot air balloons: 20

* Number of venues: 45-50

* Number of events: More than 120.

* Number of participants: 4,000

* Economic impact: At least $2 million

* Where the money goes: The goal is to redistribute a part of every dollar collected - eventually up to 50 cents - to Tennessee Valley nonprofit trusts and conservancies. At least 75 cents of every dollar - beginning this year - is expected to go back into the local economy.


You won't find funnel cakes and corn dogs at RiverRocks. Instead, food offered at the festival celebrating outdoor life will rock to a different local flavor. The first weekend, there will be no food served on-site at Coolidge Park. Instead, you can find it at Wine Over Water or the 3 Sisters Festival. The second weekend, you'll can eat your way through RiverRocks with food from the following:

* Big River Grille, serving hamburgers made from fresh beef from Sequatchie Cove Farms and buns from Niedlov's.

* Sweet Peppers Deli, offering box lunches of freshly prepared wraps.

* Fiddle Sticks Catering, serving freshly made quiche sold warm from the oven.

* Petunia's Silver Jalapeno, presenting freshly smoked Boston butt and coleslaw.

"The whole idea of different vendors was to get a local, fresh taste for our guests at RiverRocks," said Ann Ball, operations director at Chattanooga Presents. "We wanted to highlight locally grown, baked, brewed items and were fortunate to be able to find folks that agreed with us. Local food sources like Crabtree Farms and Neidlov's are being used by our vendors, and even some things like locally grown herbs will be in items like the fresh quiche on-site. It's something different to accentuate the theme of local and fresh and to highlight our local farms."


RiverRocks will end in Coolidge Park with top-notch entertainment and a light show that is being designed specifically for the event.

Following an all-day RiverRocks expo in Coolidge Park, AscenDance Project, a group that recently competed in the hit television show "America's Got Talent," will perform at 7 p.m. The dancers perform on a climbing wall, incorporating the rhythms of their music into technical, choreographed movements.

At 8 p.m., the Los Angeles-based musical group Fitz and the Tantrums, known for their fresh approach to vintage soul and pop, will perform. One of the group's trademarks is its unusual instrumentation. The band doesn't have a lead guitar, but instead features saxophone and organ, according to a news release.

The entertainment will culminate with a light show custom-created for RiverRocks, said Ann Ball, operations director at Chattanooga Presents. Designed by Full Spectrum Media, the LED show will be choreographed to dramatic music.

"This particular light show has never been done before," Ball said. "It's being developed strictly for us."

Staff writers Anne Braly, Karen Nazor Hill, Lisa Denton and Casey Phillips also contributed to this story.


RiverRocks offers may ways to get your blood pumping, even if you're not signed up for the rowing, rock climbing and trail running. This rousing round of spectator events could leave you breathless.

* Hot-air balloons: On opening weekend, Oct. 2-3, you'll have the chance for one-hour flights and shorter tethered rides, as well as a sunset balloon glow that can be enjoyed from the riverbanks or aboard Blue Moon Cruises' 70-foot luxury liner.

* Trick cyclist: Doug White can do amazing things on a bicycle, so amazing he was deemed worthy to perform with Cirque du Soleil. For RiverRocks, he'll jump picnic tables, flip from ramps and seem to balance on thin air on an ordinary mountain bike. His shows are scheduled Oct. 8-9.

* Circus Juventas: Performers from this cirque-style training school in St. Paul, Minn., will make only their second appearance outside their own facility for RiverRocks. Their acrobatics, juggling and flights of fancy begin the closing ceremonies on Oct. 8.

* Ascendance: Members of this acrobatic dance troupe, recently featured on "America's Got Talent," will present their amazing choreography on a climbing wall, nimbly moving via fingertips and toes. Catch this show on Oct. 9.

* Circle of Light: This one-of-a-kind light show is being created specifically for the RiverRocks finale on Oct. 9. It will combine lights, balloons and music to make a dramatic lasting impression.