POLL: Did Riverbend make good choices?
It's an idea so simple and seemingly obvious, one wonders why it hasn't been tried before.
For the first time since the inaugural Riverbend Festival in 1982, the main Coca-Cola Stage will feature an act at both 6:30 and 9:30 each night that the festival takes place at the 21st Century Waterfront, other than on Faith and Family Night, which already has music starting earlier in the evening. This change will not impact the Bessie Smith Strut, which takes place on M.L. King Boulevard on the Monday of the festival.
Riverbend has in the past had opening acts perform on the Coca-Cola Stage prior to the 9:30 acts, which are considered that night's headliner, but Friends of the Festival Executive Director Chip Baker says that both the 6:30 and 9:30 acts from now on will be considered "featured performers."
In making the announcement, Baker also released the first acts that have been booked for Riverbend 2015, which is set for June 5-13. They are country performers Martina McBride on June 6 and Hunter Hayes on June 11. Both will perform at 9:30 p.m. on the Coca-Cola Stage.
The first announced 6:30 featured performer is Little River Band, which will perform the same night as Hayes, June 11.
Bob Payne, local music coordinator for the festival, suggested more bookings for the under-utilized main stage after hearing the idea from a volunteer last year.
"Here we have this million-dollar stage and it is sitting empty for four hours each night," he said.
Music and Talent Coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller said the change "is huge" because it allows him to book acts that he has not had a place for in the past.
The Coca-Cola Stage by far draws the largest crowd each night with estimates between 30,000 and 80,000 people. It therefore has the largest budget each night.
The next largest, the Bud Light Stage, draws between 5,000 and 15,000 people nightly, and the budget for it was about one-fourth that of the Coke Stage. Riverbend does not disclose actual numbers, but Baker said adding the 6:30 featured performers on the Coke Stage represents close to a 30 percent increase in budget overall for talent.
That discrepancy in budgets in the past has hampered Riverbend in booking certain acts, particularly newer, popular acts that might have one or two hits and who come at a high rate.
"These are those bands that are too big for the Bud Light Stage and not big enough to carry the Coke Stage," Fuller said. With its main headliners in the past, Riverbend has focused on booking acts that would be popular with a wide cross section of the audience. This has meant established acts with enough crossover appeal and/or hits to entertain a widely disparate audience for 90 minutes.
This change will allow them to book acts that might be popular, but with a narrower target audience, Fuller says. He mentioned Trampled By Turtles and Cage the Elephant as examples, emphasizing that neither has been booked.
Fuller says it is possible that on some evenings, when a jam band or an act known for playing extended sets is booked as the headliner, for example, they might play both the 6:30 and 9:30 slots.
Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6354.