Riverbend started yesterday. Unfortunately, this column had to be written and ready to be put on the page on Tuesday, so you won't find any first-day insights here. Like a lot of other people, I've been looking forward to seeing the changes as well as seeing several of the bands in the lineup.
What I will be looking for is the fan experience. I do a podcast with Brad Steiner called The What Podcast that was started more than a year ago to primarily take a deep dive into last year's Bonnaroo lineup but has evolved into also being about the music-festival experience in general.
The fan experience is very much an important part of why people choose to spend their hard-earned money on a particular festival. You can now choose between festivals on the beach, in the woods, on a farm or in a downtown setting.
Riverbend is in its 38th year, while Bonnaroo started in 2002. The industry has changed quite a bit over those years. Audio and video equipment, for example, is way better than it used to be. The food is better, the vending and ticketing processes are better and how crowds are managed is now a science.
Riverbend has made lots and lots of changes over the years, but rarely as broad-reaching as this, and it is a reaction to the world around it. It has had to deal with a shrinking footprint as the downtown continues to be developed. But also the fan expectation has grown.
The music scene locally has also evolved and matured to the point that we now expect to see big-time acts here in town. We used to express shock and awe that people like Bob Dylan, Graham Nash and Brian Wilson would choose to come here. Now we expect it, and that has helped to force Riverbend to up its game.
Also, as more and more people attend other festivals around the country, comparisons are inevitable, and as these festivals compete for our dollars, they up their own games. The musical lineup is still important, but so too are the extras. Everything matters. How was your ticket-buying experience? How was the food? What was there to do between musical acts? Were the volunteers and vendors warm and friendly or gruff and surly?
It remains to be seen how Riverbend's big changes this year will play out.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.