Chattanooga Now City Beat: What does Moon River Festival mean for Chattanooga's future?

Chattanooga Now City Beat: What does Moon River Festival mean for Chattanooga's future?

September 12th, 2018 by Barry Courter in Chattnow Music

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Fans cheer for artists Penny and Sparrow on the first day of the Moon River music festival at Coolidge Park on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Head and the Heart headlined Saturday night's festival, which continues Sunday.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Standing on the grass infield of Coolidge Park on Sunday night watching 10,000 people throwing their hands back and forth to the music of Judah & the Lion at the Moon River Festival was one of the more surreal experiences I've had in a long time.

It wasn't just because the Tennessee River, the Tennessee Aquarium (which was lit up with the same colors as those lighting the trees in the park, by the way; nice touch) and the Bluff View Art District/Hunter Museum of American Art were to our left, creating a stunning backdrop for the music.

Barry Courter

Barry Courter

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Nor was it that several hundred people lined the railing of the Walnut Street Bridge above and behind us. It was all of those things, plus the fact that nearly two dozen acts, including Mavis Staples and The War and Treaty, had already performed, and The Dirty Guv'nahs and The Avett Brothers were still to play, and the crowd was still there. On a Sunday night, no less.

For those wondering what all the fuss was about, the event brought a bunch of bands to a city, and a park, not known for such things. And it brought nearly 6,100 people from out of town willing to pay $100 to $139.50 to see it.

As has been pointed out many times, all of those 10,000 tickets sold within eight hours of going on sale. And the organizers, AC Entertainment, came in and transformed an already beautiful park into something even more impressive with things like lighting, swings hanging from the bridge and an entrance gate with working waterfalls on each side.

Even the aforementioned lights at the Aquarium speak to the level of detail and planning. It also shows the level of cooperation and thinking on your feet, as that didn't happen until Friday when folks with AC first reached out to the Aquarium with the idea.

Though very few people got to see, 16 of the 24 artists also agreed to record a song or two for the Songbirds Foundation and their Vault Sessions backstage throughout the weekend.

Just as importantly, the sound coming from the two stages was among the best I've ever heard.

Will there be changes and improvements next year? I imagine so. These are the same people that transformed a working farm in Manchester, Tennessee, into one of Rolling Stone's "50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll." They earned that distinction in year two, by the way.

Moon River is the kind of festival that typically happens elsewhere. More than a few folks believe that because it happened, and it was so successful, it gets us over some sort of imaginary hump and into the big time. Could be.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

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