Riverbend Festival organizers will announce this year's schedule Thursday at noon during a media event at Songbirds, and organizers said while there is still plenty of variety, fans should notice a more intentional lineup each night.
"It is definitely more cohesive than it has been in the past," marketing coordinator Amy Morrow. She added that daily general admission wristbands ($40 in advance, $55 at the gate) and daily VIP ($125), as well as Star Seating ($33 plus wristband), for the May 27-May 30 event will go on sale Thursday at noon. Already on sale are four-day wristbands for $65 in advance and $85 at the gate, and four-day VIP bands for $300.
Friends of the Festival, producers of the 39-year-old event, partnered with Songbirds Guitar Museum to help produce the event after Executive Director Chip Baker retired after 20 years at the helm.
Friends of the Festival had made some significant changes the year earlier, including reducing the number of days from nine to four, after declining ticket and vendor sales. The festival had long prided itself on offering something for everyone with schedules that might feature a country act followed by a jazz or oldies act.
Tastes have changed as more festivals have popped up across the country, and many festivals have adopted a more curated approach. Songbirds president Johnny Smith said that fans today are looking for a total experience that offers plenty of "bang for their buck, and we feel like this lineup does that."
He said with that in mind, he and his staff tried to organize the acts performing each of the four nights into a schedule that made sense so that fans could come early and enjoy the entire evening.
Smith praised his staff and talent and production coordinator Dixie Fuller at Riverbend for putting together a lineup in "just four weeks" that includes headliners Ashley McBride, Mavis Staples, the Ohio Players, Darius Rucker, Blackberry Smoke, Trombone Shorty & New Orleans Avenue and Cody Jinks.
"What they did is phenomenal," he said.
Mike Dougher, talent buyer for Songbirds, said several of the acts asked to play a certain night because of who else was playing.
"There were some things we couldn't maneuver around, but not many," he said.
Dougher has been booking bands in the area for almost 40 years at Songbirds, Rhythm & Brews and the Sandbar, but said dealing with something as large as a multi-day, multi-band festival with crowds approaching tens of thousands was a bit different.
"The biggest difference is the budget and the prices acts get for festivals [versus a venue such as Songbirds]," he said. "It's a big difference, but in many cases I called on some people I've been working with for years."
He added that the booking team called close to 300 potential acts.
"If you wanted us to book them, we likely called them," he said.
Earlier this year, Smith announced that the barge stage, once the face of the festival, would be retired and a new Coke Stage would be located under the Olgiati Bridge.
The Bud Light Stage will be located on the Chattanooga Green in the corner, where the Chevy Stage used to be. The four main acts each night will alternate when they play so fans will not have to miss any of those performances, Smith said.
The Chevy Stage will feature local acts and will move to the grassy area by the river facing the concrete amphitheatre that used to be VIP and Star Seating for the barge. The TVFCU Stage will be located on the east side of the Tennessee Aquarium and feature a lineup of primarily tribute acts.
The Coke Stage will be the same type of large stage used at major festivals around the country, Smith said, and will include a catwalk allowing performers to get out into the audience. In addition to getting the acts closer to the audience, it can handle the lighting and rigging that the barge could not, something that prevented the festival from booking acts with large stage shows, Morrow said.
"That is a game changer," Smith said. "People will actually be able to get up close to the acts."
He said the new layout allows for more and better VIP experiences, as well with more bathrooms and seating areas closer to the stages.
Morrow said the space also will offer cover from the elements for almost 2,000 people. She added that while people will be able to bring lawn chairs, they will not be able to arrive early and use them to hold spaces as they have at past festivals.
"There are not a lot of acts you'll want to be sitting down for, anyway," Dougher said.
Songbirds will again hold the Songbirds Kids Talent Show at the venue, and organizer Amber Carrington said both the group and solo winners will get to perform on the Chevy Stage. Other prizes include cash and recording studio time.
"The deadline for video entries (firstname.lastname@example.org) is March 1, and the contest will be March 11-12 at Songbirds," Carrington said.
Wristbands with RFID chips, which can be preloaded with any dollar amount you choose, once again will be used for admission and the bulk of purchases, but Smith said there will be a cash bar located at either end of the campus.
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