City Beat: Riverbend barges ahead with big change

Riverbend Coke Stage / File Photo
Riverbend Coke Stage / File Photo

Reading the social media posts following Monday's announcement by Friends of the Festival that the barge will no longer be a part of the event was as interesting as I thought it would be. Everyone has a theory, it seems, on Riverbend and on what makes it a success or a failure, depending on your point of view.

I've actually had a couple of people try to tell me it was failing in recent years because downtown Chattanooga is a crime-ridden jungle beset by gangs on every corner. These comments usually come from people who haven't been downtown since they were children in the '50s and '60s, and they've never been to Riverbend.

The barge looked good on a poster or the old admission pins, but it was not a good stage for a serious music festival. Meaning, neither the musicians nor the audience members liked it because they were so disconnected from each other. It was too small for some acts and their light and stage shows, and just as importantly, it sucked up most of each night's talent budget. Plus, it was used only once each day.

(Read more: Directors considering future of Riverbend after determining this year's festival 'did not perform as well as expected')

The new plan allows for spreading out the budget and talent, which should give the festival a more cohesive focus and provide for a better fan experience. That last phrase is what is most important because as the music festival industry has grown and evolved, that has become the key to a successful event.

That means taking a hard look at everything from the ticket-buying experience to staging to what goes on besides the music.

We've all seen the success Songbirds' management has had bringing quality acts to town - and the pressure - and their reputation is on the line now with Riverbend. They know this and know they need to deliver. That should give folks hope that the lineup will be quality.

However, there are no guarantees, as booking a festival is not as simple as walking into a big-box store with your killer wish list and pulling bands off the shelf. There are all kinds of elements such as money, routing and schedules that come into play.

But the hard part has been done, and it's time to barge ahead. Sorry. I had to.

* Congratulations to Jack "Flute" Holland, Keith "Professor" Talley and Dana "Phoenix" Holdren of the group Crazy Flute. After being nominated several times over the last several years for various Native American music awards, they won Best Instrumental Album 2019 for "We Belong to the Music" in this year's Native American Music Awards.

photo Barry Courter

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

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