In a break from Coke Stage tradition, Gavin DeGraw will be preceded tonight by a brief opening set by Nashville-based pop rockers Hot Chelle Rae.
Formed in 2005, Hot Chelle gained tremendous traction nationally in 2011 with the song "Tonight Tonight," which topped Billboard's Adult Pop Song chart and hit the No. 7 spot on the Hot 100 singles chart. The track was the lead single off the band's second album "Whatever," which broke the Top 50 of the Billboard Top 200. In 2011, Hot Chelle won the Sprint New Artist of the Year award at the American Music Awards.
For more info, visit live.hotchellerae.com.
* Who: Gavin Degraw featuring Hot Chelle Rae.
* When: 9:30-11 tonight.
* Where: Coca-Cola Stage
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When Friends of the Festival booked Gavin DeGraw as tonight's Coca-Cola Stage headliner, assistant talent coordinator Jeff Styles says it felt - at first - like they were settling for a less-than-ideal fix to a desperate situation.
At the time, the festival had just lost what seemed to be a sure booking of alt-rock luminary Weezer. In a six-week scramble to find a suitable replacement, Styles says he and the rest of the talent committee examined dozens of options, from Alabama and 311 to deadmau5 and One Republic.
"There was no style of music we didn't explore," he says. "We were everywhere. It got to the point where I was ready to prop the dead body of Liberace up there and call it done."
DeGraw is a pop singer/pianist whose platinum-certified 2003 song "I Don't Wanna Be" served as the opening theme to TV drama "One Tree Hill." His name had come up often in discussions of acts to bring to the festival, but Styles, who was unfamiliar with his work, thought of him as a one-hit wonder.
Styles' co-workers, who were more familiar with the soulful singer's four-album catalog -- two of which broke into the Top 10 of the Billboard Top 200 -- soon disabused him of the notion.
"The women in the office all but clawed my eyes out, saying I was crazy," Styles recalls, laughing. "A couple of them ran to their computers and pulled up a bunch of Gavin DeGraw tunes."
That enthusiasm, combined with praise from Track 29 co-owner Adam Kinsey, who hosted DeGraw at the Market Street venue last March, was convincing. Styles says he began to see DeGraw as much more than a stop-gap solution. Combined with the opening act -- Nashville's tween pop darlings Hot Chelle Rae -- tonight's Coke Stage package could be one of the festival's strongest nights, he says.
"Since then, I felt like it was every bit as strong, if not stronger, than [Saturday night headliner] O.A.R.," he says. "It's going to surprise people."
DeGraw's fans are ecstatic for the chance to see the New York-based singer take the stage, especially when a Riverbend pin can be had for only slightly more than the $28 asking price for his Track 29 show.
"I wanted to see him there, but I couldn't afford it," laughs Amber Fults, a local pop vocalist and winner of this year's Road to Nightfall battle of the bands. "His show will be the first time I've gone to Riverbend in a really long time."
Fults first became interested in DeGraw through his 2006 debut "Chariot," which spawned three singles, including "I Don't Wanna Be." Since then, she's continued to follow his work, which she describes as earnestly performed and well-written, characteristics she says should help close the figurative distance between himself and the audience on the lawn below the Coke barge.
"He's very passionate when he sings," she says. "Coming from a musical standpoint, that means a lot to me."
Fults' band mate, Hayley Graham, says she also has long followed DeGraw's career, and he is the only Coke Stage headliner she is excited about. She says she plans to attend his show, even if she doesn't expect much in the way of athletic showmanship from him after he was eliminated from "Dancing with the Stars" halfway through the reality TV series' 14th season.
"He can't dance at all, but he's winning," Graham says, laughing. "I'm normally pretty apathetic towards the acts that are the headliners, but I was excited about him."
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.