Standing sidestage during Niko Moon's set at Riverbend last month, volunteer Jimmy Kelley kept getting texts from Cage the Elephant's manager with requests for everything from entry badges for family members to travel needs.
Kelley was part of the crew transporting artists and VIPs around the venue throughout the weekend, so getting such texts was hardly unusual. What was unusual was that Kelley kept answering back, offering solutions to every problem to the point that the manager finally told Kelley he'd never been treated so well.
Later, Kelley and Mike Dougher, who along with Chris Cobb of Nashville helped book the lineup, hand-delivered a care package with Chattanooga-related stuff and a personal "thank you" to Moon, as they did with each Riverbend artist.
Fans attending the shows never saw any of this, but they did see the sincere joy on the faces of performers like Moon, Grace Potter and Tanya Tucker.
Artists are practiced at thanking their audience and telling them how great they've been, but it doesn't take a veteran concertgoer to know when the love is sincere and when it is not.
Back in 2015, I interviewed Ashley Capps, founder of AC Entertainment, shortly after the newly formed Tivoli Foundation announced that it had contracted AC to book shows at the Tivoli and Memorial Auditorium. Capps told me then that there was a plan to bring not only more, but bigger name events to the city-owned venues, but that it would take time.
He didn't give a specific timeline, but said it had taken more than five years to build up Asheville's music scene. Most agree it took about three for Chattanooga to start seeing some of the bigger names on tour like My Morning Jacket, Graham Nash and Alice Cooper.
Improvements at the facilities and an influx of money and manpower have helped a great deal, of course, but as Capps pointed out, it is also about building trust and relationships. Tour managers and artists talk to each other and when one has a good experience in a place like Chattanooga, they tell other artists.
Not long after AC was brought in, the foundation hired Dave Holscher to manage the facilities, and he also told me during our initial meeting that it was all about trust and relationships, starting with the first conversation and continuing after the show.
"If the artists and crew get off the bus in the morning and the coffee is hot and the food is good and everyone is happy and smiling, it's a good day, and hopefully that carries over to the show," he has said on more than one occasion.
For days after Kane Brown's successful show at Finley Stadium in early June, I heard from multiple sources how well everything went. Brown's people praised the stadium staff; stadium staff praised the crew, and fans praised the staff and security for being nice and helpful.
Riverbend has always had a reputation within the industry for treating artists well, and former talent and production coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller spent a career building relationships with promoters and acts. That clearly has continued with the festival as I heard from multiple artists, including local acts who played this year, about how well they were treated.
Kelley has donated his time for years at Riverbend doing whatever is asked of him and more. We may not see it in action, but when you see someone like Potter or Tucker or the guys in Moon Taxi laughing and smiling on stage and actually acting like they are having the best time of their life, it's likely because good things happened to them before they ever got on stage.