Drew Holcomb counting down to next Moon River Music Festival in Chattanooga

Photo Contributed by Ashtin Paige / Ellie and Drew Holcomb will be back in Chattanooga Sept. 10-11 for the Moon River Music Festival. Drew Holcomb co-founded the event in 2014 in Memphis. It moved to Chattanooga in 2018.
Photo Contributed by Ashtin Paige / Ellie and Drew Holcomb will be back in Chattanooga Sept. 10-11 for the Moon River Music Festival. Drew Holcomb co-founded the event in 2014 in Memphis. It moved to Chattanooga in 2018.

Five years into presenting the Moon River Music Festival in Chattanooga, founder Drew Holcomb said there is a sense of familiarity and confidence that comes with having done it several times.

"We know what to expect now, and Coolidge Park is such a great location," he said in a telephone interview.

"There are always some surprises like the weather or things you can't control, but there are far less at the front end."

Jonathan Susman, director of special events and programming for the city, has been there for each of the previous four festivals (2020 was canceled due to COVID) and agrees with Holcomb's assessment of things.

"We've done it enough times that we pretty much know what to expect," he said. "There are always small changes, but nothing big."

Holcomb founded the event in Memphis in 2014, but when it outgrew the venue there, he partnered with AC Entertainment in Knoxville and they began looking for a new location. It moved to Chattanooga in 2018 and drew sold-out crowds for each of the festivals here.

While still involved in Moon River, AC is now owned by Live Nation, which also owns C3 Presents, which now produces the event, as it does for others such as the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

One thing that is different this year is that the 2022 version is not a sell-out, but Holcomb and Susman said it will be a big crowd. Weekend and one-day passes are available at moonriverfestival.com. Both also noted that this seems to be a transitional year for many festivals around the country as they deal with a struggling economy, higher than usual gas prices and the lingering uncertainty of the pandemic.

"And there are so many festivals to choose from," Holcomb said. He believes the festival market will correct itself going forward and he feels certain Moon River is on solid footing.

"It's such a great location and the lineup is great again," he said.

This year's festival is set for next weekend, Sept. 10-11. Headlining will be soul singer Leon Bridges, rock bands The National and Band of Horses and, of course, Holcomb and his band, The Neighbors, with their brand of Americana music.

The lineup offers something for fans of several genres, he points out, noting throwback country acts like Zach Bryan and Natalie Hemby, blues singer Keb' Mo' and bluegrass stalwarts Greensky Bluegrass.

"Everything on here is worth showing up for," Holcomb said.

"I just saw Luscius, and it was a great show, and Wilderado is breaking out," he said of two indie acts on the bill of 20-plus performers. "It's going to be a lot of fun."

Like a lot of entertainers, Holcomb was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and didn't perform in front of a live audience for many months. Getting back on the road is all the more meaningful now.

"There is a mixture of feelings because of how much we missed it and also how fragile it was," he said. I always appreciated being able to play, but never realized how much it means to me."

Early on in the pandemic, Holcomb kept his chops sharp and his fans entertained by recording a series of online shows called "Kitchen Covers." He said those were fun, but nothing like playing to a live audience.

"Now, there is a real sense of 'Man, I've got to be really grateful.' And I also realize what a really unique life it is to be able to play in front a crowd and not just cameras."

He said performing at Moon River last year really highlighted how much he missed it.

"That hit hard," he said. "I was really emotional at the end of last year."

Their latest release is the single "Dance With Everybody," released Aug. 26 with The National Parks. They're touring with the folk/pop band later this month.

Holcomb said the last few months have been the most prolific of his career for songwriting. He's written more than 15 songs and said he plans to release a record of the best eight or so in the spring and then maybe another immediately after.

"And the band is playing the best we've ever played," he said. "I think we just missed it so much."


— What: Moon River Music Festival

— When: Sept. 10-11; gates open at noon

— Where: Coolidge Park, 150 River St.

— Admission: $120 one day, $200 two days; $350 and $550 VIP; $800 and $1,500 Coolidge Club tickets.

— Online: moonriverfestival.com

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

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