Riverbend Festival rolls out slew of changes

photo Larry Brick hangs a sign Thursday from the Bud Light Stage in preparation for the Riverbend festival in Chattanooga. The festival begins on Friday, and new attractions at Riverbend include the Meo Mio stage, college town and a Ferris wheel.


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From a towering, 70-foot Ferris wheel next to the Olgiati Bridge to revamped sound equipment, Riverbend will feature a slew of changes this year.

Gates will open today at 4:30 p.m. for the festival's 31st anniversary. If the mild temperatures of the last week continue for the next nine days, this year should be a banner one, said Friends of the Festival executive director Chip Baker.

"The weather has been fantastic to set up with, and it looks like it will be a little less hot than usual," Baker said.

More than 100 artists are slated to perform this year on six stages, including newcomer the Meo Mio's Cajun Spirits Stage on the opposite side of the Olgiati Bridge from the LED-speckled Ferris wheel. In addition to serving craft beer, mixed drinks and Creole dishes, Meo Mio's also will feature a nightly rotation of blues and zydeco musicians.

During a media tour of the grounds Thursday, Friends of the Festival talent and production coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller said the sound equipment on the Coca-Cola Stage has been improved dramatically this year.

"It sounds five times better than anything I've ever heard -- loud, but very, very clear," Fuller said, adding that the Unum Stage equipment also has been revamped.

Rules regarding seating have been overhauled as well. According to festival literature, no blankets, chairs or other equipment may be left on the grounds overnight, a measure designed to free up space and prevent people from leaving their stuff in an attempt to claim the same spot night after night. Anything left on the grounds will be tossed, officials say.

Volkswagen has increased its presence at the festival in its second year as a sponsor. The company has an onsite mobile unit highlighting various environmental projects and also has taken over for the Tennessee Lottery as sponsor of the stage between Chestnut Street and Power Alley.

"Who knows," Baker joked, "maybe someday it will be Volkswagen's Riverbend."

Sponsorship overall has been up this year, Baker added, though he didn't cite specific figures.

Pre-show pin and token sales also have increased over last year, Fuller said, crediting the rise to a diverse music schedule and an "absolutely pristine" weather forecast of temperatures in the mid-80s.

Riverbend officials said they expect this year's most popular Coca-Cola Stage acts to be country artist Eric Church, who headlines tonight, the festival-first "double headliner" of the Happy Together Tour and Gov't Mule on Sunday and alt rockers the Goo Goo Dolls, who will play June 15.

"This [is] going to be one of our biggest years ever," Fuller said. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun."