The headliners make the news, but the "no-names" make the festival. With nine days worth of music to fill, more than 100 bands will rotate through Riverbend's five downtown stages.
Finding talent that will capture the attention of the 650,000-plus spectators while fitting into budget constraints requires a certain finesse for festival organizers.
To accomplish this Herculean task, a 12-member artist selection committee spends countless hours listening to virtually unknown acts, hoping to land the next big hit. It's a year-round process,
with Entertainment Director Joe "Dixie" Fuller booking talent as early as the previous August.
"There are no bad ideas," says Fuller. "People will email me suggestions and I take every one of them seriously. It's our festival for our community, so I take everything into consideration."
The system works. Riverbend stages have a rich, 30-year history of hosting enormous talent on the cusp of breaking into the big time. Below are the top five "almost famous" acts you must see this year.
June 18 / Unum Stage
Dana Fuchs' powerful voice belies her petite frame. With a commanding stage presence and long tangle of curly blonde hair, it's no wonder that one of her first big breaks came from playing Janis Joplin in Broadway's "Love, Janis." Soon after, theatre crowds flocked to New York's blues circuit to hear Fuchs perform her own songs. Her earthy and sometimes gravelly voice is matched only by her band's hard-hitting rock n' roll sound and bluesy groove.
June 15 / Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) Stage
Jazz guitarist Denny Jiosa walks listeners through a unique landscape of classic jazz, Latin and smooth jazz, producing funky, contemporary grooves mixed with palatable melodies. Recognized for some time by industry insiders, Jiosa has released six albums and garnered four Grammy nominations for his recording and engineering work. In live performances, Jiosa partners with world-class musicians such as Chester Thompson (drums for Genesis and Santana), Glen Caruba (percussion for Jimmy Buffet) and Jeffrey Scott Wills (saxophone for Donna Summer).
June 15 / Bud Light Stage
The festival's surprise hit, the formidably talented R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius' first solo album debuted No. 2 on Billboard's Top 200 list - a status that developed after inking her Riverbend contract. Her soulful repertoire ranges from sultry songs set to piano like "With You" to feisty hits like "I Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player)." An accomplished songwriter, Ambrosius penned lyrics for the late King of Pop Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys before pursuing a solo career.
June 10 / TVFCU Stage
Sisters Lydia and Laura Rogers were discovered almost by accident at a Nashville audition, where astonished music representatives scrambled to sign the girls to their first deal. A perfect fusion of classic country and indie pop, their folksy harmony is as pure and bygone as the vintage frocks they don onstage, as well as the 1950's recording equipment used for their debut album. Originally from Muscle Shoals, Ala., the duo is sure to dazzle Chattanooga audiences, particularly with their hit, "Tennessee Me."
June 17 / TVFCU Stage
This Knoxville-based band won't have to travel far for the festival, but they've come a long way since forming in 2006 - a hodgepodge of college friends originally convening to play just one show. Recently recording their second album, "Youth Is In Our Blood," with a Grammy award-winning team, this fresh-faced sextet is reminiscent of other Southern rockers like The Black Crowes and The Allman Brothers, delivering a bluesy rock sound with plenty of swagger.