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Despite adapting its approach to produce shows in hopes of "keeping the doors open" and employees getting a regular paycheck, Friends of the Festival, the organization that produces the Riverbend Festival, has reduced its staff from seven to two and is liquidating its assets.

The move was made to streamline operations in the hope of surviving as an organization by presenting a "different festival" in the future, according to board chair Mary Kilbride.

"Our goal and our mission is to have a Riverbend Festival in the future," she said.

She said Friends of the Festival has enough money in reserve to launch a new festival at a later date, and the goal going forward is to figure out how that might work.

"We don't know what it will look like, but we know we'd like it to be on the river, and we'd like it to be music-centric, but we will have to take the temperature of the public when the time comes to see what social distancing even looks like in the future. I feel certain the festival will be streamlined."

Mickey McCamish will remain in his role as executive director, while Karen Shostak will stay on as director of sales.

"She will be out there looking at just what kind of events we can do and what is working," McCamish said.

McCamish said he will focus on liquidating assets such as staging, fencing and a building that Friends of the Festival has accumulated over the years.

"We have a 7,500-square-foot warehouse full of stuff," he said. "We kicked the can as far down the road as we could. This was not an easy decision to make."

Kilbride said the organization tried several ways to remain open, but a decision had to be made to ensure that Friends of the Festival "survives."

"With Mickey's guidance, we did everything we could with the shows we did," she said. "We had a responsibility to our sponsors, and we fulfilled all of those, and we tried very hard to keep the doors open. There are no events on the calendar currently, however, which means there is no money coming in.

"It was very emotional and heartbreaking," she said. "These are long-term, loyal people who love the festival and their jobs."

McCamish met with staff Monday morning to tell them of the decision, which is effective immediately.

The Riverbend Festival started in 1982 as a a five-day event spread out over the city with several goals in mind, including engaging the community, spotlighting the city on a national level, increasing civic pride, promoting local arts organizations and having a positive economic impact.

It arguably succeeded on all counts, having presented thousands of artists and drawn hundreds of thousands of people to Chattanooga and the riverfront area over the past 38 years.

Riverbend 2020, like nearly every other festival around the world, was first postponed in June and then canceled altogether as the coronavirus spread around the globe. In an effort to keep staff on the payroll and move forward, Friends of the Festival looked to its summer concert series, Riverfront Nights, as a way to keep the doors open.

It rebranded the event as Chattanooga Unite and moved it from the 21st Century Waterfront to Hamilton County-controlled Tennessee riverfront after Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke closed city-owned parks and venues.

It also held a family movie night there and presented two concerts in recent weeks at AT&T Field. While all of those events were deemed successes, they didn't generate enough funding to prevent the cancellation of the festival.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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