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Many people work to unload and take down the Coke Stage after Riverbend Festival is complete at Ross's Landing in Chattanooga, Tenn., Sunday, June 18, 2017. It took about four days for the Coke Stage to be put together, and workers expect it to take a couple of days to dismantle everything.

This story was updated at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, to add map of the new Riverbend Festival layout.

The iconic Riverbend barge, which has been a part of the Riverbend Festival almost since its beginning, is being retired and a new festival layout will greet attendees in 2020.

Under the new plan, the Coke Stage — as the barge has been known for more than 35 years — will now be underneath the Olgiati Bridge, which has been undergoing construction for more than three years, according to Mickey McCamish, executive director of Friends of the Festival, the nonprofit organization that produces the event. The Bud Light Stage will be moved to the Green, the grassy lawn at the corner of Riverfront Parkway and Chestnut Street.

The Chevy Stage will be located in the corner of the amphitheater area where the Coke Stage/barge was. If plans go through, the Tennessee Valley Credit Union Stage will be located on the grassy area between the Tennessee Aquarium's two main buildings.

McCamish said all of the sponsors have been supportive of the changes.

Friends of the Festival has partnered with Songbirds Guitar Museum to help with producing the festival and booking the artist lineup. Songbirds President Johnny Smith said the changes are "game changing."

some text Image provided by Friends of the Festival / This image represents the new layout for the Riverbend Festival, which organizers are nicknaming "The Festival Between the Bridges." The finished construction work on the Olgiati Bridges allows planners to move the Coke Stage underneath it, providing not only a covered stage, but more room and better site lines for the audience.

"I was shocked at how much space there is now that the Olgiati Bridge work is completed and we can move that stage underneath it," he said.

The plan is to build a "superstructure stage" similar to those used at other large festivals around the country that can accommodate the largest acts out there. For acts that choose to use it, the stage will have a 40-foot thrust, or "vanity ramp," that will allow the artists to get out into the audience.

Smith said he estimates the newly configured festival site between the Olgiati and Market Street bridges can hold 40,000 people, which he said he hopes the festival can draw.

"That would be a sell-out, and I'd like to see us cap it at that," he said.

Two acts will alternate performing each night on the Bud Light and Coke Stages beginning at 6:30 p.m. The complete lineup, which should total about 32 acts, is not complete, but Smith hopes to announce the entire lineup later this month.

The new layout also includes more, and organizers say better, VIP options for each stage that will include reserved seating areas.

"It also [lets] the performers get closer to the audience," McCamish said.

One of the biggest changes will be moving the local vendor/sponsors away from the main entrance gate along Chestnut Street.

"You will walk in and know you are at a music festival because the Bud Light Stage will be right there," McCamish said.

The changes come three weeks after McCamish was named to his position and the Songbirds partnership was announced. They follow a 2018 festival that saw the event cut from nine days to four, move from mid-June to late May, double its admission price and end its corporate ticketing partnerships.

McCamish said the admission price for the 2019 festival has not been determined, "but it will be significantly less than last year." He also said Friends of the Festival is working to re-install the corporate ticket program, which allowed businesses with 10 or more employees to buy wristbands at a significantly reduced price.

Both he and Smith said that the RFID wristbands, and the policy of requiring almost all purchases to be made with them, will return, at least for this year. Smith said it is too late in the process to undo that system, but it is a goal to loosen that up for 2021.

"And, we will have a cash bar at each end of the site," he said.

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

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