Riverbend 2.0: Time for a reboot

Riverbend 2.0: Time for a reboot

June 16th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Tyler Hubbard with the band Florida Georgia Line shakes hands with the crowd as the band performs on the opening night of the 2013 Riverbend Festival Friday at Ross's Landing.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

The Riverbend Festival has been the staple of Chattanooga summer entertainment for 31 years. It began as a five-day festival and has grown to a nine-day, $3.5 million business. Along the way, it went from being $400,000 in debt to having a cash reserve.

But the festival is tired. Maybe it's time to rethink how the days and acts are billed. Maybe it's even time to scale it down from nine days back to four or five, and maybe move it out of the time-frame of Bonnaroo.

The uproar over Cee Lo Green's recent performance at Riverbend is a case in point for reorganization and clear billing. Liberally laced with profanity and punctuated by the star baring his not-insubstantial bottom to the crowd, Cee Lo's performance ran smack dab into a culture fight about what has been billed as a family festival.

But at the same time, Chattanoogans are pretty consistently calling for the festival to bring in top-drawer acts of today -- not yesteryear.

Cee Lo is not a family-oriented artist, but he is one of the hottest entertainers in television and music today. Appealing to both today's rappers and old rockers who loved Motown, he's hauled five Grammies in the past three years. He's a perfect illustration of the ongoing concern event organizers face.

They have to line up talented, affordable and available performers who need to be well known to the general public. Green fit that bill with hit singles like "Crazy," and his contributions as a panelist on TV's "The Voice" talent competition.

But his recorded performance history makes it somewhat ridiculous to expect, even if he promises it, wholesome on-stage behavior. His best work, while undeniably catchy, has been sanitized well before it hits the public airwaves.

The public does bear some responsibility for screening what they plan to expose their children to. That said, perhaps festival organizers might label their nights a bit better, too.

The event's annual Faith and Family Night, featuring Christian artists, no beer sales and an admittance fee drop to $5, is one way to do that, or at least to do the best that can be done to discourage things most people probably agree children ought not to hear or see (and that many people, particularly older people, do not wish to hear or see). Also known as "Sweet Tea Night," this is a popular evening at the festival, albeit with generally lower attendance than a typical festival night.

Still, kudos to festival organizers for not making the whole span of party nights Lawrence Welk-like -- something that seemed threatened for a few years as classic rock and pop performers of the 1960s and '70s died off or grew so old that they prompt more jokes about the festival's lineup than excitement.

Fortunately radio and the Internet have spawned far edgier stars here. Let's not forget Kid Rock's show a few years ago.

But it's not fair to shout down those edgy shows, and it's not reasonable to expect every performance at Riverbend to be to everyone's liking.

Maybe it's time for a night to showcase the rude and raucous. And put a prominent warning sticker on it.

Riverbend is good for the city. And it's fun. The $32 a pin price for even just five nights is an incredible bargain. But one size entertainment does not fit all, and not every night needs to be family night.

Think outside the norm, Chattanooga.