Chattanooga musicians represent a huge percentage of Riverbend's lineup, say it offers opportunity for greater exposure

Chattanooga musicians represent a huge percentage of Riverbend's lineup, say it offers opportunity for greater exposure

June 6th, 2015 by Casey Phillips in Local Regional News

Lead singer Maria Jordania Sable and her local band the Smooth Dialects play on the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union stage under Market Street during the first night of the 2015 Riverbend Music Festival on Friday, June 5, 2015.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Riverbend Festival 2015 Day 1

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Riverbend 2015 online

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Here come the locals

More than 40 local bands will perform at Riverbend this year, including:
* 8TRK
* Arson
* Bert David Newton (Fort Payne, Ala.)
* Calling Glory (Athens, Tenn.)
* Cash Only
* Chattanooga Girls Choir
* Davey Smith & the Pearl Snap Preachers
* Deacon Bluz
* Drew Sterchi & Blues Tribe
* Five40
* The Iscariots
* Jess Goggans Band (Fort Payne, Ala.)
* John & Michelle
* Krystye Dalton
* Malemen Show Band
* Marlow Drive
* Matt Stephens Project
* Natural Habitz
* Nick Lutsko, Etc.
* No Big Deal
* Preston Parris Band
* The Red Rogues
* The Mudd Brothers (Cleveland, Tenn.)
* Old Time Travelers
* River Canyon Band
* River City Hustlers
* Rock Point Church
* Rock Skool of Chattanooga
* Scarlet Love Conspiracy
* Scott Brown Band
* Smith and Wesley
* Smooth Dialects
* Social Network
* Soul Survivor
* Standing Against the Odds
* Standing Room Only
* Stress Relief Band
* Trevor Card
* The Unsatisfied
* Wade Trammell
* Wrecking Crew


Of the dozens of acts that play Riverbend each year, most attention gets heaped on touring artists who bring a bit of out-of-town exoticism to the riverfront.

But much of the white space on the schedule is filled in by bands from the Chattanooga area, many of whom say playing the festival represents a kind of high-water mark on the local scene.

"For me, playing Riverbend is more meaningful [than playing other venues]," says 39-year-old Heather "Hippie" Kilgore, lead singer of Scarlet Love Conspiracy, the North Georgia Southern rockers who will perform June 13 on the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union Stage.

Growing up, Kilgore's parents would take her to Riverbend, and she still recalls the awe she felt watching musicians -- local and otherwise -- at the festival.

"I always wanted to be that guy," she says. "I always wanted to be able do that. I was starstruck by the whole thing. It seemed like you had to be a big deal to play Riverbend, and here I am now actually able to do it. It's kind of a bucket-list thing for me; it's a huge thing."

Of the 100 bands and roving street musicians scheduled to play this year's festival, 41 are from Chattanooga or cities located less than an hour's drive away; that's right at 40 percent of all bands playing Riverbend. The genres they represent range from soul/funk artist Smooth Dialects to reggae/ska band The Iscariots to punk mainstays The Unsatisfied.

This year's ratio of local to nonlocal acts is consistent with last year, according to Friends of the Festival talent assistant Bob Payne, who is responsible for booking about one-third of Riverbend's schedule.

"We try to fill out as many slots as we can with local people," he says. "I think it's a great time for the fans to see a local band at what should be -- or could be -- their best. They're up on a big stage with big equipment and have a sound engineer there, which they might not have when they play at Larry's Pool Hall. They have good equipment, good lighting -- everything is there to give them a good performance."

Riverbend's typical payout for local artists is $100 per member, but Friends of the Festival says the true value of a festival time slot is in the exposure to a larger, more diverse audience than they typically encounter.

When local indie pop artist Nick Lutsko made his Riverbend debut on the Unum Stage in 2004, he and his bandmates in rock trio Infinite Orange were still in high school and had to be chauffeured to their gigs by their fathers because they weren't old enough to drive. Now 24 and heading up a new self-titled group that will perform on the predominantly local Chevy Stage on June 13, Lutsko remembers leaving that first festival feeling a surreal degree of celebrity.

"We had an incredible audience, a huge turnout," he says. "Girls were having us sign their cellphones and T-shirts and all this crazy stuff. We made like $1,000 on merchandise that year. I remember thinking at the time, 'Man, this music thing is easy. We've got it made.'"

Although it gives local artists a leg up and a bit of time in the spotlight, Payne says, the benefit of showcasing Chattanooga musicians flows both ways.

"They actually sell tickets for us," he says. "If you book a local band at [a bar] or something, odds are that Grandma and their cousins and kids won't go there to watch them play. But if you get them here, they probably will. When they bring out all their cousins and next-door neighbors and all, they buy tickets."

The months-long process of sussing out Riverbend's schedule starts in September, when Friends of the Festival's talent booking committee begins combing through hundreds of band applications. Except on the rare recommendation from a trusted source, Payne says he never books a band without seeing it perform first. Consequently, he says, he spends much of his time haunting local venues and events -- dozens each year -- laying eyes and ears on prospective local talent.

Sometimes, a local band might be passed over, he says, but usually, that's due to lack of experience, not talent.

"There are bands out there we get submissions for every year, and ... they've only played in their garage," he laughs. "You can't go see them if they're only playing in their garage."

Although there is no official regulation preventing repeat bookings of local acts, Payne says he prefers for artists to have at least two years between appearances, if not longer. Because of the heavily cross-pollinated local music scene, however, some artists make more frequent appearances because they're members of several different bands at the same time.

Local vocalist/guitarist Preston Parris, 37, first performed at Riverbend in 2004 as a member of country-fried rockers The Collins Brothers Band from Cleveland, Tenn. A long-time studio musician in the region, he says he jumped at the offer to join the band largely because it had been booked to play Riverbend.

Since then, Parris says he's performed at the festival six times, including dates as a member of WTM Blues Band and the Nathan Farrow Band as well as a backing musician for local country singer/songwriter Davey Smith. This year, he'll tack on two more appearances, including a date this Sunday supporting Smith again and another on June 12 at the head of his own roots-rock outfit named, naturally, the Preston Parris Band.

Despite his many Riverbend appearances, Parris says the festival has yet to lose its luster.

"Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be up on one of those stages," he says. "It's always a big deal for me. ... It's the ultimate music festival, and it's in Chattanooga. What's not to like?"

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.