It may only be December, but buzz about next summer's Riverbend Festival has already begun.
Last Thursday, Riverbend artist advisory committee member Bijan Dhanani hinted on his Twitter feed that folks might be pleasantly surprised by the quality of next year's lineup.
Then, on Friday, the festival announced that it is replacing admission pins with wristbands. The wristbands will be scanned at the gates, giving festival organizers demographic information. In future years (and as costs allow), RFID chips will be added to the wristbands, which will aid in the monitoring of crowd flow and the disabling of lost or stolen wristbands, as well as allow attendees to use the wristbands to make purchases inside the festival.
Planning for Riverbend starts months in advance, and the details of next year's festival are becoming more and more finalized with each passing day. But because organizers seem to be open to making some changes, I'd like to propose a few more.
Make Riverbend shorter.
The Riverbend Festival has always felt about two days longer than it should be, resulting in needless fatigue for festival workers and attendees—as well as for the disinterested folks trying to maneuver around the festival. Fewer nights would mean less fatigue and less traffic. It would also mean fewer acts and more money to spend on those acts. Which brings me to my next suggestion …
Book bigger acts.
If the festival has a bigger budget per act, it only stands to reason that it will be able to lure bigger acts. Don't get me wrong: The festival does book some big names. I've seen great shows on every stage. But most years, it feels like they are trying to make their budget stretch to cover all of the nights. (I still cringe when I think about that Michelle Branch set. And the Commodores without Lionel Richie don’t need to exist, period, and certainly didn't need to be booked as one of the festival’s main stage acts.) The increase doesn't have to be spent on the Coca-Cola stage, either. Bigger acts on the smaller stages would create just as big a buzz. There are tons of music festivals these days. The key is to leave the audience wanting more, not feeling like they settled for less.
Tote that barge.
No, I'm not talking about Allen Casey's rotting monstrosity across the river. I'm talking about the barge that serves as the Coca-Cola stage. It's ugly. It's also huge, yet somehow seems miles away. The seating area right in front of the stage is OK, but the lawn seating to the right of it is awkward. If it weren't for the video screens on the barge and around the seating areas, most in the crowd would barely be able to see anything. Something more crowd-friendly is in order. And while we're at it, I know it's called the "Riverbend Festival," but maybe the river isn't actually the best place for it. Which brings me to another idea …
Move the festival.
Count me among those who think the Riverbend Festival should move. There are numerous places around the area where a similar or bigger festival could be held. Some have grass. Some are also near water. All make more sense than the festival's current location. If organizers want to keep it downtown, why not move it to, say, the Southside? Finley Stadium—with its oval, crowd-friendly shape, existing seating and additional available space on the field—is sorely underutilized and would be a better spot for an outdoor concert than the waterfront. The adjacent First Tennessee Pavilion has already proved its worth as a venue, and the surrounding streets would be easier (and less annoying) to block off and would provide just as much (if not more) space for additional stages, merchandise booths and food vendors. If organizers can't settle on one location or are determined to stay on the waterfront, perhaps they can take things up a notch …
Make Riverbend bigger.
I know. The thought of a bigger Riverbend makes some folks cringe. But please, hear me out. As it stands, the festival is needlessly cramped and needlessly ticks off too many people—many of whom could actually become friends of the festival (pun intended).
Instead of maintaining a huge logjam in one part of town that tons of people dread and/or avoid, why not spread Riverbend out across the city? We don't need to create another Spoleto, but we could take some cues from them. Why can't Riverbend take place on the river and the Southside? It's not like folks aren't willing to bounce around a bit. Thousands of people attend the Bessie Smith Strut. What if there were other festival-related events and performances up and down Broad and Market? Or down on Main? There's a family night. Why isn't there a Latin night? Where's the standup comedy? Where are the theater and film events?
If the festival were expanded and spread out, more people would have more reasons to attend—and fewer reasons to complain. Traffic would be thinner, too. Those swanky new bracelets could get folks into numerous venues, as well as get them discounts at tons of businesses along the festival route—businesses that would rather be busy serving crowds walking through their doors than watching crowds walk past them.
I've lived here for 20 years. The city has undergone a massive transformation during that time. Perhaps it's time for Riverbend to consider one, as well.
Are my ideas crazy? What, if anything, about the Riverbend Festival do you think needs to change? Let me know in the comments below.
Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) news, culture and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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