Retooled Riverbend was a hit with fans, avoided trouble

"No arrests."

Those were the first words out of Riverbend Festival Executive Director Mickey McCamish on Monday morning when asked by the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a telephone interview how the three-day event went.

The festival, held just a couple of miles from where three people were killed and 14 people injured during and after a shooting early Sunday, wrapped up Sunday night. It was held seven days after six people were shot less than 2 blocks from the site.

The event featured 15,000 people on hand to hear 23 acts perform, and McCamish said the crowd was well behaved and that safety was the No. 1 priority. He said he is proud of the staff and the people who attended.

"I feel real good about that," he said. "Public safety was No. 1, and we had zero arrests. That might be a first for Riverbend."

Riverbend dates to 1982, and some past festivals were plagued with people arrested and charged with everything from public intoxication to underage drinking to disorderly conduct.

McCamish said the festival sold all of its allotted 15,000 wristbands by the time the weekend wrapped up with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's performance. Before that, acts such as Moon Taxi, Brothers Osborne, Grace Potter, Cage the Elephant and Arrested Development played to large, appreciative crowds who seemed to enjoy the smaller number of people - and stages.

Chattanooga dentist David Champion has become a regular music festival attendee in recent years, happy to travel to places like Chicago, Delaware and Franklin and Manchester, Tennessee, and he's been a regular Riverbend Festival attendee for many years.

He said Saturday via telephone and again Monday morning via text that he likes the new layout and the smaller crowds at this year's event. Friends of the Festival made some drastic changes to the event this year at the suggestion of patrons who responded to a survey.

Champion was impressed with the new look and layout.

"I liked it mainly because the crowd was smaller and, I will say, it's also a more mature crowd," he said.

"There were plenty of bathrooms, and also the line for a beer wasn't bad if you walked just a little ways. Also, the Coca-Cola Stage was just cooler on the grass, and I know banning chairs was an issue, but I'm glad they did. No festival allows chairs."

Champion said he also felt like the lineup was curated to allow for people to spread out, but also with the idea that fans could stay all day if they wanted and hear bands that had enough of a similar sound to be interesting to fans who attended.

Mike Dougher has booked acts in Chattanooga for almost four decades at places like the SandBar, Rhythm & Brews and Songbirds, as well as for a variety of festivals and special events. He co-booked this year's Riverbend Festival lineup with Nashville-based promoter Chris Cobb.

Dougher said Monday via phone that he and Cobb had several goals in mind with the lineup.

"We wanted diversity, and we wanted an international flavor, and I was so happy to see people loving Los Amigos Invisibles," Dougher said.

He said the Tanya Tucker act was a highlight in a weekend filled with highlights, but perhaps the biggest highlight was watching a young girl of about 7 join the large crowd of fans at the Budweiser Stage singing along to Niko Moon during his hit "Good Times."

"That's so great," Dougher said at the time.

"I saw her later dancing at the Moon Taxi show and then again later at Grace Potter. Her face was painted, and she was dancing and I thought, 'That's a future festivalgoer.'"

Comedian/actor/author and Chattanooga native Leslie Jordan was the grand marshal for the festival, and he attended all three days, mingling with the crowd and introducing acts, many of whom he knows personally. He said in a text Monday morning, "There's no place in the world I'd rather be than Chattanooga - surrounded by family, friends and the best music.

"Riverbend delivered once again and made me so proud to call this HOME. I want to thank Chattanooga for having me, and, hopefully, they invite me back. If not, it doesn't matter, I have the key to the city thanks to Mayor Tim Kelly.'"

McCamish said there were issues early on with scanners not able to read the chips on wristbands and the gates and the bars early on, but he said those eventually were resolved.

He and Dougher praised the city police and public works staff and the volunteers who staffed the event and noted how clean and well run things were once things got going late Friday and into Saturday.

"People did a great job of policing themselves, keeping things clean," McCamish said, "but the city really did a great job."

Dougher was especially appreciative of the "unsung, behind-the-scenes people like Jimmy Kelley, who volunteered and did everything from drive artists to the airport to 10 different hotels and to their stages to perform. He was here on Sunday morning at 6:30 moving buses. Plus, he was the one handing out tequila shots for Tanya Tucker during her show. He was everywhere. And always smiling."

McCamish said he has already started thinking about next year and will gather with staff in the coming days to go over what worked and what needs work. He said the site should be open and back to normal by Tuesday.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354. Follow him on Twitter @BarryJC.