Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Liz Vice performs on the first day of the Moon River music festival at Coolidge Park on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Head and the Heart headlined Saturday night's festival, which continues Sunday.

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Moon River Festival

Ellie Holcomb, wearing a white cotton maternity dress, found a quiet moment behind the Iris Stage to visit with her husband, Drew, as they watched Liz Vice perform. For him, it was a rare opportunity to watch one of the acts he helped select for the inaugural Moon River Festival in Chattanooga at Coolidge Park.

Holcomb co-founded the event in Memphis in 2014 with Paul Steele, the manager of his band, Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors. Just a few minutes before he had been inside the Chattanooga Theatre Centre recording a song and interview for The Songbird Foundation. He was one of 16 of the 24 artists on the bill who was making such a recording.

"Everything has been great," he said. "I really hope to meet Mavis Staples tomorrow, just to thank her for her music. You know."

Ellie had been hearing plenty of thank-yous herself all day, she said.

"People have been coming up and thanking me for us bringing this here," she said with a big smile.

The Moon River Festival marks a first for Chattanooga on a couple of fronts, and it appeared to pass with flying colors on most counts, despite temperatures in the high 80's and a 40-minute storm delay. Coolidge Park, located on the North Shore, had never hosted a gated, ticketed event before and many wondered how it would do.

"It's beautiful," Vice said. "The river. The view. The layout. The bridges. Everything."

The Holcombs moved the festival to Chattanooga after partnering with AC Entertainment, the same Knoxville-based music marketing and production company that produces the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and Forecastle in Louisville, Kentucky.

For the festival, AC put up gating around the park and constructed two stages, with one closer to the Market Street Bridge and the other near the Theatre Centre, where a Moon River entry gate had been built. Food and drink trucks and booths lined the area between the park and River Street.

Traffic on Frazier Avenue was normal for a Saturday, and most of the shops and restaurants seemed to be doing a brisk business as well. The festival continues Sunday with performances including Mavis Staples, The Avett Brothers and The War & Treaty.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.