CORRECTION: This story was updated at 3:51 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, to correct the spelling of the name of Crestcom in the first paragraph. This story was updated again on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, at 6:39 p.m. with more infomation.
After 20 years as executive director of Friends of the Festival, the nonprofit organization that is responsible for producing the Riverbend Festival each year, Chip Baker is leaving to work for the business consulting company Crestcom, he announced Thursday.
Baker, a Hamilton County commissioner, said Thursday he has been mulling the decision for about two years and informed the board in July of his decision.
"I'm 61 and I'd like to work for another 10 years, but the time to leave this particular career is now. Plus, I found a great opportunity that I am very excited about," he said.
"Chattanooga is our home, my kids' home, and it always will be, and this job made that possible. I am very grateful for the opportunity that we had."
Baker said that despite the festival losing just over $1 million last year, he leaves it in much better shape financially than when he took over, pointing out that the event made a profit in 18 of the 20 years he was at the helm.
"We have $1.6 million more than when I started and another $800,000 in assets," he said. "We knew last year [it] was going to lose money. That's why you have a 'rainy day fund.'"
Last year's budget was $3.5 million, Baker said.
He said big changes in the music festival industry over the last decade or so, with the rise of events such as the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and the Moon River Festival here in Chattanooga, forced Riverbend to make wholesale changes last year.
Those included shortening the event from nine days to four, doubling the admission price, doing away with tokens as a means of making purchases and going toward an RFID wristband system.
Organizers also spent more on the four main acts — Weezer, Keith Urban, Macklemore and Lionel Richie — and partnered with AC Entertainment in Knoxville in booking those acts. They added attractions such as a whiskey bar and Ferris wheel, and the combination of all those things led to higher expenditures and lower ticket sales.
"But we had to rip the Band-Aid off," he said. "The hard work has been done."
As to the future, board chairman Jay Jolley said the board has a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday with an agenda to get ready for Riverbend 2020.
"Chip has served the Friends of the Festival, its staff and Chattanooga for over 20 years with Riverbend, Riverfront Nights and many other great events in Chattanooga. Chip's leadership and dedication will be sorely missed, but he leaves behind a dedicated and seasoned staff to lead the organization as we move forward with our 2020 and future events. Chip will remain a resource of experience and support as we move forward," he said.
Mayor Andy Berke pointed to Baker as a reason why Riverbend has been so popular over the years.
"Chip Baker has been a big part of what made Riverbend a success and a staple event in our city, and I thank him for his commitment to the community," reads a statement from the mayor. "I wish him the best of luck with his next endeavor."
Mike Costa, former general manager of WTVC-TV 9 and a Friends of the Festival board member, referred comments to Jolley, but said, "I'm very happy for Chip. There are not a lot of people who have done what he has done for Chattanooga. He is off to his next mountain, and he is excited."
Though his contract ended Oct. 1, Baker said he will stay on as long as needed at the festival.
Baker replaced Richard Brewer as the festival's executive director in 1999. Before that, he'd spent 19 years as a hospital administrator and as an event manager. He was at Erlanger hospital before Friends of the Festival.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.