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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd/ The crowd reacts as Brandon Niederauer and his band finish their set at the last Riverbend festival held in Chattanooga in 2019. Tickets for the latest iteration of Riverbend, scheduled for June 3-5, will go on sale Saturday.

After a tumultuous year amid COVID-19, Friends of the Festival is ready to present a rebranded Riverbend Festival on June 3-5 with fewer staff members, fewer days, fewer stages and fewer artists.

The group plans on a more cohesive musical lineup at Ross's Landing and the waterfront, with an emphasis on presenting an event that patrons say they want.

Tickets will go on sale at noon Saturday on the festival's website for $95 and on Monday for a discounted $85 through WGOW radio, which is the festival's exclusive media partner through the end of January.

VIP tickets will be $295 and will include preferred seating and bars near the two main stages, access to VIP areas on the pier and a new VIP section on the green across Riverfront Parkway from the Tennessee Aquarium, as well as access to permanent bathroom facilities.

Friends of the Festival was already making changes to the nearly 40-year-old event before the pandemic caused it to cancel the festival in 2020 and 2021.

Since that time, Friends of the Festival reduced its staff to essentially just Executive Director Mickey McCamish and Director of Sales Karen Shostak, who has since left to work for the Tivoli Foundation. Meanwhile, the organization has liquidated much of its assets including staging and production equipment, sold its building on Manufacturers Road for a little over $700,000 and moved into a smaller rented office on Market Street.

McCamish said the money from the liquidation sales coupled with the $725,000 it had in reserves and the $2 million it got from the federal Small Business Administration's Shuttered Venue Operators Grant gives them the nearly $3.5 million he said is needed to plan such an event. He also said limiting the number of ticket buyers to 15,000 at $95 gives them a smaller, safer-sized crowd and it works out mathematically to cover production costs.

"Running an event like this is expensive," he said. "You have to have the money in advance to book the bands and staging and the insurance, especially now after what happened in Houston" (at the Astroworld Festival where eight people were trampled to death on Nov. 5).

"But, we feel like we are in a good place to do this," he said.

In recent months, Friends of the Festival has rehired Mitchell Hall, who is now the director of operations, Samantha Wright as director of sales and Nadine Peteros as volunteer coordinator. The group has also moved several operations that were once handled in-house to outside agencies such as Derryberry Public Relations, which is handling marketing and Bona Fide Live, a Nashville-based music promotion company owned by Chris Cobb, to book the larger acts. Solid Rock Live will handle production.

What was once an eight-day event with five stages and almost 100 acts will now be a three-day event with almost 30 acts. Gone is the barge stage, which for years served as an iconic image for the festival, but which was not favored by acts or many fans in recent years because of the distance it created between the performer and the crowd.

Where to buy tickets

— $95 Starting Saturday: riverbendfestival.com

— $85 Starting Monday: wgow.com

The two main stages will be the Coca-Cola and Bud Light stages that will feature national and regional touring acts. The smaller Chevy Stage will feature mainly local acts.

Cobb, who also owns the Exit In in Nashville, is working with Mike Dougher to book the larger acts. Dougher has booked acts for numerous local events and for the Sandbar, Rhythm and Brews and Songbirds over the years. The full lineup will be announced sometime in January, rather than over several weeks and months, as has been done in the past, McCamish said.

McCamish said the staff and the board of directors have taken the last 20 months to listen to nearly 3,000 people who responded to a survey about what they want from the festival.

"We really spent the last almost two years looking at everything and listening to people, and this is the result of that," he said.

Hall said that the surveys offered a lot of reinforcement for what changes the staff was already thinking of putting into place, as well as a few new ideas. For example, they will make lockers available for people who want to bring a jacket but not carry it around all day.

"We kept hearing the same things," he said of the survey answers. "People wanted a smaller, safer crowd. They wanted more local and healthier food, and they wanted free water stations. Basically, they told us they want to be able to go and enjoy themselves."

He said eateries and food trucks will be supplying much of the food, and a beer garden will offer craft beers.

Robin Derryberry, of the public relations firm, said limiting the number of tickets also provides a sense of urgency for fans to buy their tickets in advance. She also said Friends of the Festival is reaching out to community partners in the arts and entertainment fields to help give the festival a more vibrant local feel.

It is working with the Association for Visual Artists to create an arts market for local artists and with ArtsBuild to help use some of its available grant money to help bring in local musicians. Friends of the Festival hopes to do the same with SoundCorps and its Sidewalk Stages busking program.

McCamish and Hall both said they feel this version of Riverbend will more resemble the successful Riverfront Nights concert series that Friends of the Festival staged in the same location for nearly a decade.

"This past summer was a huge success with way more people coming than we expected," McCamish said.

"This [Riverbend] will have a smaller footprint and it will feel more like festivals that people are used to going to, but with a Chattanooga vibe," Hall said.

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

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