Faith and Family Night's clean-cut atmosphere strikes chord with Riverbend attendees (with slideshow)

Faith and Family Night's clean-cut atmosphere strikes chord with Riverbend attendees (with slideshow)

June 12th, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Local Regional News

Newsboys were the headliner at the Coca-Cola stage Tuesday night.

Photo by Connor Choate/Times Free Press.

Sweet Tea Night, the Riverbend Stretch, Faith and Family Night ... Tuesday.

The midway point of the Riverbend Festival goes by many names, but all of them - except perhaps Tuesday - reflect a more clean-cut, low-key atmosphere that is a decided change of pace from the festival norm.

For the families and church groups that are its primary audience, Faith and Family Night is a welcome respite from the normal Riverbend experience, which many attendees said is too rowdy, especially for the festival's youngest attendees.

"I love Faith and Family Night," said Debi Dixon, as she walked toward the Chestnut Street entrance at 6 p.m. with her husband Tim and daughters Myria, Tayten and Laurel.

Tuesday evening was the family's first chance to visit the festival, and Dixon said she appreciated that it was the one night she could bring her children without worrying about explicit lyrics or unruly elements.

"I think it's a really good way to bring families in and not worry about the bands the kids are going to hear," she added. "We're really here more for the atmosphere. We look forward to family time."

Typically, attendance on Tuesday evening is about 50 percent lower than the other nights, according to Friends of the Festival Talent and Production Coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller. For Fuller and his crew, the lighter crowds and the shuttering of the Unum and Tennessee Valley Credit Union stages offers a chance to take a breather before the festival ramps up again tonight.

"Tuesday does give us a chance to reflect a little bit and do some repairs to areas that we're not busy in," Fuller said in a phone interview just prior to gates opening at 5 p.m. "It's not as hard-driving a day as the other days are."

Early Tuesday morning, a flash thunderstorm swept through the area and toppled a couple of signs, Fuller said, but otherwise, it left no more sign of its passing than pools of rainwater collecting in the lids of beer vendors' coolers, which - in keeping with Faith and Family Night tradition - were shuttered for the evening. In what some might describe as an ironic twist, however, the Tennessee Lottery stall was still open and doing a brisk business.

Musically, Tuesday featured Faith and Family Night's usual mix of local and regional gospel acts, who paved the way for the night's headliner, Australian Christian pop rockers The Newsboys, who made their second headlining appearance after first performing on the Coke Stage in 2005.

Christian radio station J-103 on-air personality Ted Gocke also organizes the Christian music festival JFest, which The Newsboys also have headlined. The four-time Grammy-nominated and five-time Dove Award-winning quartet, he said, were as much a booking coup for the festival as marquee country/pop acts Florida Georgia Line and Jake Owen.

"The Newsboys are probably Christian music's No. 1 party and celebration band, if you will," he said. "I would say The Newsboys are at the top, definitely, in Christian music."

With clear blue skies, high humidity and temperatures in the upper 80s, many guests were pulling out their fans and drinking copious amounts of water, some looking surprised by the change from lower temperatures during the festival's early days.

Although The Newsboys were the evening's most high-profile act, by far, guests said they felt just as much impact by the performances of local faith-based artists.

As they left the Volkswagen Stage at 6 p.m., Bryan Gibson and Cindy Jones of local Southern gospel duo Calvary's Blend said the temperatures were uncomfortable, but as singers, the hot weather was easier to deal with than vocal chord-distorting cold.

Besides, for their Riverbend debut, a little discomfort was easy to overlook in the face of reaching out to and potentially touching a receptive audience.

"We just hope our music lifts somebody up in their time of need and that they know what we're singing about: The Lord," she said, just as the stage's next act, Andrew Alford started up. "I really do think we made that connection."

At 7:30 p.m., Abba's House worship leader Abby Brown took the Bud Light Stage, her rich alto vocals projecting out alongside an 11-member backing band. Her set consisted almost exclusively of songs that appear on her recently released debut album, "Abby Brown Live," which she recorded at Abba's House last year.

Halfway through her performance, she'd earned a fan in Ooltewah's Abbie Byrom, who says she was swayed by Brown's second song, the original, "My God Is Great."

"This is my first time coming down to Faith and Family Night," explained Byrom, who teaches music at Bayside Baptist Church. "I'm already feeling the presence of The Lord. This is much more than entertainment for me."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205.