The timing was likely coincidental, but just days after the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival announced its lineup for a full-blown festival in September with the potential to draw 80,000 people to Manchester, Tennessee, several other big events have made public their plans for events this summer and fall.
Organizers around the region said there are several reasons why now seems like the time for bringing people back together in large numbers. They also said they are optimistic, but still very cautious.
"I think people want to get out and be entertained," said Bill Hatfield, a commissioner in Sequatchie County who also plays music and is the entertainment chair for Valley Fest, set for Dunlap May 1-2. It will be the 10th Valley Fest and, like nearly every such event, the 2020 version was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"But, I want to tell you, I am concerned and I'm a realist," Hatfield said. "It is still out there, and I know it is deadly."
A large, full-fledged Get Off the Grid Fest is scheduled for Aug. 20-22 at Camp Jordan, but a smaller version called a Charrette will take place April 18 at Crabtree Farms, both as a test for the big event and a fact-gathering opportunity for organizers.
The Charrette's director, Laurel Askue, said organizers have been discussing the issue of safety for weeks and will continue to do so.
"With the Charrette, it's been a question from the beginning: Can we have it in person?" she said.
"We feel more confident now, but we will ask people to wear a mask and be distanced and we will have a waiver to sign," Askue said. "It's all outdoors, and the port-a-potties will be sanitized and monitored. We felt like with the state of vaccinations and numbers [of coronavirus cases] going down, we have to move forward unless we get a bigger mandate."
Johnny Hughes, co-producer of the new Forward Festival set for May 28-30 at Cherokee Farms in LaFayette, Georgia, echoes the views of Askue and Hatfield. It will be a camping and music festival at the 245-acre farm, with a capacity of 1,000 people and about 40 bands.
"We've got a guy who has a sanitation company who will clean the stages and the restrooms, and we are taking all the necessary precautions we can," Hughes said. "We believe the vaccines allow us to start to open up."
He said many of the artists have expressed many of the same concerns patrons have.
"Most of the bands we've spoken to say they have been hurting and they need and want to play," Hughes said. "We haven't had any issues with contracts or demands. Everybody seems good to go because we've all been studying what others have been doing."
Organizers of both Chattanooga's Nightfall concert series and the Riverfront Nights and Riverbend Festival said they are awaiting the results of the city's mayoral election on April 12 to see how the new mayor will rule on gatherings, but they are planning to present events if possible.
"When we do know who the new administration will be, we will look to them for some guidance," said Carla Pritchard with Chattanooga Presents, which produces the free weekly Nightfall series. "We want to do what everybody agrees is the right approach."
Pritchard said she is planning on presenting the series beginning June 4 with the finals of the Road to Nightfall contest. Typically, the winner of that event gets to headline one night of the summer series, but she said this year's schedule, which will start and end later in September than usual, will feature all-local acts.
"I know that is a little different, but they will still get the title and the award [cash and studio time]," Pritchard said of the winner. "We will focus on the local acts and give some local love to our Chattanooga artists."
Friends of the Festival Executive Director Mickey McCamish said that though the organization reorganized with far fewer staff back in November, it is his plan to present both Riverfront Nights with shows this summer at the 21st Century Riverfront and a smaller, three-day Riverbend Festival in October.
For many of these events, putting them on as soon as possible is as much about getting back to normal as it is about business. Both Pritchard and Hatfield said they had either sponsors or band contracts in hand from previous schedules to consider.
Shenandoah was booked as the Valley Fest headliner for 2020 and a deposit check had been written, Hatfield said, for example.
"They've been great, but you can't keep putting things off," he said.
Pritchard said, "We do have sponsors in play, and we are working on some of those and some new ones. If we need to make adjustments, we will, but we are optimistic."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
Festivals coming soon
April 18, noon-9 p.m.
The festival will be powered by the sun and will feature live music, eco-friendly vendors and workshops led by nationally acclaimed climate change advocates. A paneled Q&A will be hosted during the Charrette from 2:30-3:30 p.m. It is a primer for the larger Get Off the Grid Fest set for Aug. 20-22 at Camp Jordan.
Headlining the Charrette is Laura Walker, formally of the Dismembered Tennesseans, WalkOrRow, and Kofi Mawuko. The Get Off the Grid Fest will feature more than 38 artists and that lineup will be announced in the coming weeks.
Organizers hope the free Charrette will rally conversation and enthusiasm about energy independence during a dynamic and volatile post-pandemic environment and inspire the community to participate in the Get Off the Grid Festival.
Festival founder Bill Fleming hopes festivalgoers learn how empowering energy independence can be.
“Living off the grid doesn’t mean hiding in a bunker, preparing for a holocaust, and isolating from your neighbors,” he said. “It means saving the earth’s resources, living sustainably, and having a longer and healthier life, not reliant on corporations. And it takes an entire community to achieve this.”
The Charrette is free to the public, and all attendees will receive a coupon for $20 off the tickets for the Get Off the Grid Fest Aug. 20-22 at Camp Jordan.
Multi-platinum group Shenandoah will play Saturday night and John Schneider will play on Sunday along with Dunlap native Cody McCarver and the Stars & Bars Band. Other performers include The Beaters, Track 145, Sequatchie River Band, Bill Hatfield and the Wild Wind Band and Bill McCallie and In Cahoots Band.
It’s a community event with food, inflatables, rides, face painting, a 5k and a fun run and a car show. Admission is free thanks to an increase in sponsorships, according to Sequatchie County commissioner and entertainment organizer Bill Hatfield.
The music, camping and art festival less than an hour from Chattanooga will feature Oliver Wood and Lindsay Lou, along with almost 40 other acts including Grass is Dead, Jon Stickley Trio, Blair Crimmons & The Hookers, Lauren Morrow, Kyle Tuttle Band, Oweda, Frankly Scarlet and Jess Goggans Band.
Open to all ages, it will also include a kids zone, yoga, fire dancers, market and food vendors.