Long before they took the stage as the first headliner of the 30th annual Riverbend Festival, the Coca-Cola Stage lawn already was well saturated with stalwart fans of Huey Lewis and the News.
Few could claim to have as good a spot to hear the San Francisco-based Lewis' celebrated rock harmonica playing as Mary and Tom Schultz, who secured prime real estate on a hill just to the right of center of the Coca-Cola Stage.
Mary Schultz said she's waited 25 years for a chance to hear Lewis. The performance was bound to be great, even if Lewis didn't perform hits such as "Heart of Rock & Roll" and "Hip to Be Square," she said.
"It doesn't even matter to me what he sings," Schultz said from the shade of her umbrella. "Everything he does is good. [Hearing him] was on my bucket list. I'd wait two days for this."
Schultz may not have cared whether Lewis' set hit his career high notes, but he offered them up nonetheless, starting with "Heart of Rock & Roll" followed by "You Crack Me Up."
By the time Lewis took the stage, the temperature had finally dipped into the 80s after cresting at 95 earlier in the day. The heat was on many people's minds, including the artists.
Just before taking the stage at 6:15 p.m., the San Francisco-based Stone Foxes gathered behind the Bud Light Stage, and the weather was a prime topic of conversation.
"We just got in about three hours ago," said drummer and co-lead vocalist Shannon Koehler before plugging in to play to a crowd of about 200. "We're going to rock as hard as we can without fainting due to the heat. That is our goal."
As the sun sank closer to the horizon, however, the crowd at the Bud Light Stage grew in anticipation of the arrival of Mickey Thomas.
By the time the former lead singer of Jefferson Starship took the mic at 7:45 p.m., thousands had gathered, filling the parking lot and spilling onto Riverfront Parkway.
Before the downbeat, the crowd was encouraged to participate in an attempt to cinch the record for largest group air guitar during the third song, Starship's hit single "Jane." Few opted to participate.
With dozens of artists yet to perform, festival attendees said they have high hopes for the days to come.
Nicci Baierlein and Chrystal Crane began coming to Riverbend four years ago when they returned to North Georgia after moving away 25 years earlier.
Attending the festival has become an annual tradition, Baierlein said.
"We start scoping out Riverbend in February," she said, adding that she's particularly excited to see headliners Miranda Lambert, Alan Jackson and The Machine. "I think Riverbend is awesome."
Despite the enthusiastic crowd that gathers to hear each night's Coca-Cola Stage performer, Riverbend offers a more relaxing experience than most festivals, Crane said.
"Some of the other places we've been, it's loud and noisy," she said. "At this festival, everyone is laid back and waiting on the music but enjoying themselves around the river. You get a calm feeling before the excitement."
Despite being impressed with this year's lineup, Baierlein had one piece of constructive criticism to offer Friends of the Festival for next year.
"If we could just get Dave Matthews to come ... that would be awesome," she said, laughing.