Attendance down, but R&B abounds at Riverbend Festival

Attendance down, but R&B abounds at Riverbend Festival

June 15th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in News

Headliner Charlie Wilson performs with his bass player on the Coca Cola stage at the Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Thursday.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

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Despite a stark drop in attendance at Riverbend on Thursday, the festival still oozed the soul that the event's R&B-themed night has come to be known for.

The evening kicked off at 5 p.m. with The Scenic City Soul Revue, who started their Bud Light Stage show with a cover of "Get Ready," a Smokey Robinson classic popularized by The Temptations and Rare Earth.

Just on the other side of the Olgiati Bridge, the Humane Educational Society was banking on Chattanoogans exhibiting heart and soul in equal measure. Beneath a banner inviting guests to "Adopt a Forever Friend," volunteer Laurie Millener said the festival offered dogs the same commodity so desired by the bands who performed there: an audience.

"This is all about the local community, and animals are certainly about the Chattanooga community," she said. "There is no better way to get exposure than to get the animals out here meeting people."

Every night, the society features six to 10 adoptable dogs (no cats). Although animals may be adopted directly from the festival, volunteer manager Jeanine Cloyd said this year's festival has already resulted in six adoptions, as many animals as were helped in the entire festival last year.

The society and two other animal care facilities also will benefit this year from Park for Pets, a partnership with the festival to donate 100 percent of proceeds from a parking lot on the western end of the festival, Cloyd said.

Standing back stage prior to his 6 p.m. performance on the Volkswagen Stage, local smooth jazz pianist David Anthony was hoping festivalgoers would be as charitable to him for his first performance as a solo artist.

Anthony made his Riverbend debut five years ago with The Impressions, for whom he serves as musical director. He also performed a second time three years ago.

Anthony said he hoped for as good a reception of his original music.

"Hopefully, we'll build a new fan base tonight," he said, relaxing back stage wearing a white shirt, slacks and Bahama hat. "This is a break out. I'm pretty excited about it."

With his dark sunglasses and white teeth showing as he smiled around every verse, Anthony looked the spitting image of his idol, Stevie Wonder.

Although the lawn fronting the Volkswagen Stage was empty when he started, Anthony quickly attracted an audience.

The same could not be said of another of Anthony's influences, The Gap Band's Charlie Wilson, who also was making his third appearance at the festival as the evening's headliner.

Even at 8 p.m., open seating was still abundant throughout the Coke Lawn, including in the blanket seating area, where only a single spot had been claimed. Seating there, at the foot of the stage, costs an additional $10.

Half of the nearby Star Seating amphitheater had been opened for free to the public earlier in the day. Normally, these premiere seats carry an additional $20 premium, and fans who were aware of the change were happy to snap them up.

Jefferey Williams, 46, said he couldn't understand why such prime viewing was still available, considering Wilson's leadership of Oklahoma electro-funk legends The Gap Band and a solo career that has yielded half a dozen Grammy nominations.

"He's is going to be explosive," Williams said.

Despite a continuation of Wednesday's high temperatures and humidity, festival talent and production coordinator Dixie Fuller said earlier in the afternoon that he anticipated a strong crowd for Wilson.

And if they didn't show up, they'd be missing out, he added.

"There are about 22 people on stage, and with The Gap Band, I'd say they only had a dozen folks," Fuller said. "It's a much bigger production than we're used to doing on R&B night."

Leading up to Wilson's performance, classic rockers Foghat seemed to have a monopoly on attendees' attention. Many who entered the festival made a beeline to the Bud Light Stage before the band's 7:45 show.

Even with a large crowd on their doorstep, however, Cloyd said the Humane Society's day had been fairly unsuccessful. There were no new adoptions to chalk up, she said, as her volunteers prepared to pack up at 8 p.m.

Nevertheless, Riverbend had shown its heart earlier in the week, and Cloyd said she remained hopeful that trend would continue into the weekend.

"We've already done what we did last year, so that's exciting," she said.