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Rebecca Lovell of the band Larkin Poe plays the electric guitar during the first night of Riverbend Festival Wednesday, May 29, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Weezer was the headliner for the night.

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Riverbend's first night

Riverbend 2019's opening night had the usual amount of glitches, including technical hiccups with the RFID chip readers on wristbands at the main gate and bands playing shorter sets than advertised, but for the most part things seemed to go off about like past festivals.

That's either good or bad news, depending on your point of view. This was touted as the "new Riverbend" that would transform it from a "mom-and-pop" festival into a "big-time music festival," as Executive Director Chip Baker said in an interview with the Times Free Press last week. The earlier date on the calendar, fewer days, better bands, higher ticket prices and a better fan experience with more VIP offerings, a Ferris wheel and a whiskey bar are designed to bring Riverbend in line with the hundreds of other festivals that have sprung up around the country since it launched in 1982.

While those things were notable, as were the lower humidity, smaller crowds and fewer vendors that gave the site more room for people to walk around. Fans did note that the vendors, who were hawking everything from gutter-cleaning services to cheap inflatable robots and Rebel flags, seemed out of place at a big-time music festival.

"Rebel flags? Really? At a music festival," said one fan staring somewhat in disbelief at the mobile vendor in the middle of Riverfront Parkway.

The RFID wristband chips are now used for everything from entry to making purchases. The scanners had trouble scanning the RFID wristbands chips when the gates first opened at 5 p.m., but they were working after about 20 minutes and were working smoothly at the vending booths. Also, there was only one booth set up to redeem tokens from previous festivals, but while the line remained about 30 deep throughout the evening, it moved smoothly.

As the music industry, and downtown Chattanooga, have evolved over the last several years, with more and bigger shows coming to town, as well as more development eating up real estate near the 21st Century Waterfront where the festival is held, Riverbend officials have been working to adapt the 38-year-old festival.

Baker describes this as a transition year, and while very few festivals span nine consecutive days as Riverbend did for many years, not everyone embraces change right away.

Sixteen-year-old Kerrigan Holland of Ringgold, Georgia, is one of those people. This is her fourth Riverbend.

"I wish it was longer," she said.

She was there Wednesday night with her parents, as she has been on three other occasions, and she was there with her friend Ansley Teague, also 16, who was attending her first Riverbend.

Holland said the longer festival gave her more time to walk around seeing other friends and listening to the music.

"It's more fun," she said of a longer festival.

One of the early stars of the evening was Larkin Poe, featuring sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell from nearby Calhoun, Georgia. They put on a blistering set of blues rock featuring Rebecca's lead vocals and guitar and Megan's lapsteel playing. Also notable was the bruising, but short, set by local rockers The Bohannons under the Walnut Street Bridge.

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

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