Chattanooga’s Live Music Scene – 9th Annual Riverbend Report Card: 2016 – Tuesday, July 19, 2016 – by Bob Payne

Riverbend 2016 - photo by Mark A. Herndon

Riverbend 2016 – photo by Mark A. Herndon

The 35th Riverbend festival is in the books, and this is my 9th annual Riverbend Report Card. I try to be fair and objective, but also must disclose that I have a working relationship with the festival. I waited a month to write this, as I wanted to take my time and reflect on this year’s festival.

2016 was a mixed bag for me. I really enjoyed many of the side stage acts and a couple of the Coke Stage acts. However, it was so doggone hot for much of the festival, it made really enjoying it difficult. We’ll take a look at every aspect of the festival and give a grade, which, as I stated, is totally my opinion.

All in all, I give Riverbend a grade of “B” for the Coke Stage acts this year. I am not a big fan of “new” Country, so I kind of skipped out on the Coke stage those nights. I really enjoyed Blood, Sweat & Tears with Bo Bice. He did a great job and the band was excellent. I was never a big Heart fan, but I really liked their show, as well. Salt-n-Pepa would have been a stellar show had they bothered to show up on time. Their show was well received and really fun. Here Come The Mummies once again proved how much fun they are, although they would be a better 9:30 p.m. act, when it is dark. Another band of which I was never a big fan was .38 Special. That being said, they put on one heck of a live performance.

On the side stages, I really enjoyed most of them. Kane Brown, who I had a chance to meet and talk with, was really quite good. The Stooges Brass Band was excellent, as was Ambrosia. The Peterson Brothers Band was the real deal and made me proud to have brought them here from Austin, Texas. I was very disappointed that Turkuaz was rained out. They’ll be back. Doyle Dykes was everything I knew it would be. The Purple Xperience turned out to be spectacular. That was a show I was not in favor of doing and it goes to show just how wrong I can be. The Delta Deep show was excellent, too. I give the side stages an “A” for 2016.

The Weather – (D) The only reason I didn’t give the weather an F score was the last two nights. It cooled off a bit those nights, or the weather would have a big fat F. We only had a rainstorm one night, and that passed quickly enough to get the 9:30 p.m. Coke Stage act on. I was disappointed that the other stages had to be cancelled for the evening, but safety is always number one at Riverbend.

Concessions – (B) Beer and food at Riverbend is reasonably priced for a music festival, generally speaking. A 16oz beer costs less at Riverbend than at 31 of the 32 major league ballparks, and even less than a Coke at some movie theaters. This year, I noticed some price increases that caught me a bit off guard. I always eat one Chicken-on-a-stick each year, gladly paying 14 tokens for the monster sized delight. This year they were 20 tokens. I guess I got a little sticker shock. I have no problem with the price of beer, water, or soft drinks, as they are favorable when comparing to other entertainment events.

I continue to suggest that Riverbend could do away with the stupid tokens. Just sell refillable “gift cards”.  They are much easier to carry, and are easy to hook up to an accounting system. A short-term investment for a long-term goal is what they call that, I think. Keep taking the tokens, but just don’t issue any more. The “token” booths at the festival would just become gift card issuers and validation points.  The festival could then track the sales by time-of-day and see which acts really bring in the concession sales and which ones just bring in the people. We entered the 21st century 16 years ago, or at least some of us did.

The IATSE Local 140 stagehands do a wonderful job at Riverbend, as do the volunteers, staff, and other workers. They are the hardest working crews in the business and nobody does it better. Period. End of story. The stage managers, Ray, Ten-A-C, Bob, Hayes, and Warren are the bomb – they rock. Did I mention the IATSE Local 140 stagehands? Well, they are worth mentioning twice. You could find a crew for less per hour, but they wouldn’t do half the work in the time frame as our guys and gals. They are true professionals – well trained, safe, and easy-going. They worked really hard with the festival to control costs this year, and that keeps the cost of admission low.

The police at Riverbend also do a great job. For a festival of this size, there really are very few problems. If you are a troublemaker, they will be on you like a duck on a June bug. Even if you are an idiot, being nice and cooperative will almost always get you a break. When you get belligerent, you’ll find yourself with some new bracelets and a night at the crossbar motel. The Hamilton County Sheriffs Department, along with the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County EMS, are stellar in my book.

The “Star Seats” out front of the Coke stage, available for just $10 on the 6:30 show, were empty again this year, despite great crowds elsewhere. Last year, the Star Seats were sold as a package deal for both the 9:30 p.m. show and 6:30 p.m. show. The seats were empty for 6:30 and full for 9:30. This year they separated the two shows and they still were empty for the early show. I guess it’s time to rethink that area.   

Overall (B) I would give Riverbend a “B” overall grade this year. The festival costs about five bucks a day, so by picking just one side stage act each day, it is a spectacular value. The heat and a couple other things mentioned earlier put a damper on this year. I did make some new friends this year, and anxiously await next year’s festival.

Our official hotels, the Marriott Springhill Suites and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo were excellent. The Riverbend transportation department again was proven to be the best, as is the Riverbend staff. The volunteers at Riverbend are the greatest.

Also, thanks to the for their excellent coverage of the festival. Our coverage rocked, especially with the contributions from professional photographer Mark A. Herndon.

See you at Riverbend 2016 in about 48 weeks!

In the meantime, send me your thoughts on Riverbend. What would you do, specifically, to make it a better festival? What would you change? What do you like about it? What bands would you like to see? (Do me a favor – don’t say The Rolling Stones or Kenny Chesney. They are million dollar acts and it isn’t happening!) Put “Riverbend” in the subject line and email Bob Payne at


Original article at–9th.aspx – Thanks Bob.

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