You could win VIP Riverbend tickets! Get your photo taken at the free Times Free Press photo booth at Riverbend. Also, see and tag photos all this week at Facebook.com/timesfreepress
They were brown, black, red and even, on rare occasions, purple. Many were etched in intricate designs and flopped around the ankles. Some were plain leather and clung tight to the calves.
Whatever their design, boots were the fashion du jour Friday leading up to country artist Eric Church's headlining performance on Riverbend's opening night.
Those feet -- bedecked in boots or otherwise -- filed through the main entrance on Chestnut Street in a 4:30 p.m. trickle that became a torrent leading up to Church's 9:30 performance.
Church hit the stage wearing all black with a stage setup that was full of lights and opened the show with "Country Music Jesus."
Many guests were hoping to snag a seat on the Coke Lawn, but within a couple of hours, the prime real estate was all but claimed.
Thanks to a new policy this year, however, those seats should be available on a more egalitarian basis since equipment left overnight will be removed. The policy, designed to prevent guests from claiming a single spot night after night, was well-received by 22-year-old Hixson residents and lifelong festival attendees Nathan and Brooke Horton.
As they set up their blanket in one of the newly expanded nonsmoking areas to the right of the barge, Nathan Horton said the policy evened the playing field.
"I think the new policy is fair. Everyone paid the same price, and they should play by the same rules," said Nathan Horton, 22, while applying sunscreen to his 7-month-old son Kellan. Nearby, the Hortons' daughter, Madison, was patiently waiting out the days to hear her favorite artist, The Band Perry, who will headline Wednesday.
At the other end of the festival, guests were responding equally well to two new additions to the festival, a 66-foot-tall, LED-encrusted Ferris wheel and the Meo Mio's Cajun Spirits Stage.
Under a nearly cloudless sky and a breeze that provided a break from temperatures hovering in the mid-80s, the view atop the wheel took in the entire sweep of the waterfront and put guests eye-level with traffic on the nearby Olgiati Bridge.
Gary Magyoram, manager of North American Midway, said he expects that perspective to make it a prime attraction during his second year managing the festival's carnival rides.
"We brought it mainly because of the height," Magyoram said. "You can see everything. It's unbelievably gorgeous."
On the other side of the bridge, North Georgia Southern rockers Remembering January were preparing to christen the newly opened Meo Mio stage. They kicked off their 7:30 show with a rousing two-song medley combining Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" with a chicken-fried take on Alan Jackson's "I Don't Even Know Your Name."
The band performed to a crowd of over 100, many enjoying the festival's only mixed drinks and Cajun concessions such as rajun buffalo shrimp po boys, crawfish on a stick and gator in a cup.
That crowd was the result of a grass-roots marketing campaign hours before the show, when the Chatsworth, Ga.-based quartet wandered up and down Riverfront Parkway to drum up attendance.
Gathered backstage before the show, their first in Tennessee, band members said they were pleased by the welcome they received at the festival.
"The stage equipment is fantastic," said drummer Brandon Singleton, 19. "I'm looking forward to the sound here. It's crystal clear."
In the final hour leading up to Church's taking the stage, the line for a $26 single-night ticket stretched hundreds-long nearly a block up Chestnut Street.
At 8 p.m., Dalton, Ga., resident Tabitha Crider and her family waited calmly at the rear of the line despite facing a lengthy wait and a ticket costing more than half the price of a nine-day pin.
Crider said the hassle was worth the chance to hear Church sing songs like "Love Your Love the Most" and "Drink In My Hand."
"We like all his music," she said, smiling. "The line's no biggie. We'll just get seats wherever we can."