It's June and getting warmer and stickier. That can only mean one thing: It's the time of year when music fans mob Tennessee.
The Riverbend festival is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of fans to Chattanooga's waterfront June 7-15. Bonnaroo will lure 80,000 campers to a 700-acre former farm in Manchester, Tenn., June 13-16, along with a throng of international music journalists.
Bonnaroo is higher profile - it pulls in bigger acts - this year even former Beatle Paul McCartney - and reporters from the likes of Rolling Stone and Billboard cover it, but Riverbend is attended by more of our readers. And, to be fair, this year's Riverbend has arguably the most current lineup ever in terms of headliners having new albums now out, hit singles and musical relevance.
We'll cover both festivals, of course. But our coverage of Riverbend, the hometown festival, will be more intense. This year's big acts include Southern favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd, singer/songwriter Cee Lo Green and country star Dierks Bentley.
Every day in the Times Free Press, we'll have information on the acts coming up that night, and coverage of the previous night's music. We'll also have a Critic's Choice in which reporters Casey Phillips and Barry Courter recommend acts that aren't the headliner and tell you why they're worth seeing.
We'll also have stories that range from security to food. And, of course, we'll cover any breaking news, some of which usually turns up at Riverbend. In the past several years, breaking stories have been everything from stormy weather to a homicide.
At timesfreepress.com, we'll have a live blog every day that incorporates tweets and photos hashtagged #Riverbend, tweets from Phillips and Riverbend artists and interactive poll questions about the festival.
We'll also have a photo contest. Hasthtag your Riverbend photos to #timesfreepress on Instagram for a chance to win two VIP tickets and a cruise on the River Gorge Explorer. The photo with the most likes by noon on June 14 will win the tickets for Saturday, June 15.
Phillips takes the lead on Riverbend coverage. He's been doing it for seven years. His favorite part of the assignment? "Discovering artists that amaze you, that you would never had laid ears on. ... It puts people in contact with music they otherwise would not know about."
His advice: "The side stage to me is where all the fun happens."
The biggest obstacle? "The heat. I sunburn super easy ... and it's hard to approach people when you're a sweaty mess."
Plus, "I never get to go Bonnaroo."
Landing Cee Lo - famous as a solo artist as well as being part of hitmaker Gnarls Barkley and a judge on NBC's "The Voice" - was a coup for Riverbend, and we're having some fun with it. We're inviting readers to get all artsy-crafty and mail in a paper doll of Cee Lo Green, known for his flamboyant, glitzy ensembles. He has dressed up as a Roman centurion and Darth Vader, after all.
Inside today's Life section is a paper doll that you can cut out and dress up, then send it by snail mail to the paper. Or you can go to www.timesfreepress.com/ceelo and download the doll, clothe him using the computer, then email it to email@example.com. You have until Tuesday. The Cee Lo costume judged best will win two Riverbend pins for its designer.
On June 13, veteran journalist Courter will slog through traffic jams on Interstate 24 West to the join about 80,000 hot, sweaty music fans from around the country at Bonnarroo. He'll get to his campsite, put up his tent and start Tweeting, Facebooking and blogging that afternoon. He'll be a one-man show, also filing daily stories for the paper, taking photos and using his iPhone to shoot some video.
Courter is a trooper. This is the eighth time he's been a Bonnaroovian in the name of journalism.
The worst thing about it? The weather (especially if it's rainy and muddy) and the Porta Potties, he said.
But the assignment isn't without its perks. The best part? "The music," he said. "It's like heaven inside of hell. If you like music, there's nowhere better."
Some of the best shows he's seen there? Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Mumford and Sons.
His all-time favorite? Alice Cooper, last year.
"He had the big spider and the guillotine and the snake," Courter said. "It was cool."
Boomer favorite McCartney is the biggest name in this year's lineup, and Courter cannot wait to see him.
But if you're not able to make it to Bonnaroo or Riverbend, check out the coverage from Courter and Phillips. It may not be just like being there, but you'll get a good taste of it.
Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.