Riverbend is Here Again

Truth be told, I haven’t been to Riverbend in years. The festival and Neocon run simultaneously which means that Denise is in Chicago with her clients. Consequently, I’m either along for the ride with her, or at home with the boys. (This is me resisting the urge to write about how much I love Chicago) However, before marriage and kids this was my favorite Chattanooga week of the year. I enjoyed it more for spectacle than for its musical offerings as my favorite bands and genres are not well represented. Back then, if pressed to give my main reasons for attending, the answer would have most certainly included drinking in public and people watching. In my old age, I have crotchety quarrels with things such as “those darn kids”, loud music, carny food, late nights and mullets so I don't really miss it.  But I know I’m in the minority and that a lot of people come here to have a great time and I think that’s fantastic. Riverbend does a number of great things for our community and for downtown above and beyond its obvious financial impact.

Yes, I would (and did)
skip Riverbend for a trip to Farnsworth House.

I think that the Riverbend experience changes one’s perspective on the city. Ordinarily, people experience the Riverbend venues from the comfort of their cars. It is not often that one can go strolling about unmolested in the middle Riverfront Parkway or Chestnut Street. Being able to get in those places and experience them at human scale instead of through the lens of a car establishes a totally different connection. Cruising a 12’ wide travel lane as a pedestrian and as the driver of a car are two completely different experiences. That place is not made for a single individual, it only feels comfortable during the festival because there are (thousands of) other people there. Hopefully, even if subconsciously, it conveys the point that the city should be designed for the person, not the machine.

The festival also helps inform people about walkbility. It is a walking festival, and hopefully, for those who don’t ordinarily embrace pedestrianism it underscores the ease and common sense behind the practice. A lot of our visitors live the suburban lifestyle and drive from front door to front door to front door throughout their days.  Even though it’s a festival and not “real life”, one would hope that the process of parking the car, walking from music venue to food vender to restaurant to bar, would shed some light on just how easy it is to be a walker when the environment is designed to accommodate that activity. (Not to mention that walking helps burn off funnel cake, deep-fried onions, turkey legs, and other various foodstuffs on a stick.)

Perhaps the only food-on-a-stick not on offer at Riverbend.

For thousands of people, the festival provides a glimpse into downtown living. Each hotel guest gets a taste of what day-to-day life living in downtown is like. Wake up in the morning, walk to a coffee shop, visit any of our numerous attractions during the day, stop by a restaurant and have lunch, walk to a baseball game, walk to any of the dozens of restaurants or bars. I wonder how many people sample the downtown living experience for a week and wonder what it would be like to live that way? Ditch the car, forget the yard work and live within walking distance of the regions best restaurants, biggest attractions, largest employers and biggest customer base?

Clearly, this is a social event. Yes, there are people who attend for the sole purpose of listening to music. But I would argue that the vast majority of attendees are there for the social component. The festival provides the opportunity for people to bump into friends, old and new. It provides unparalleled people watching, and provides the opportunity to see and be seen. Face it, Riverbend Bingo is good stuff. One of the reasons that Riverbend is successful as a social event is that the spaces that accommodate that activity are designed for that purpose. The Friends of the Festival had a prominent place at the table during the design phase of the 21st Century Waterfront project. In fact, it seemed to me that the FoF drove a number of the riverfront design decisions to a questionable degree.  I found it baffling that we were being so deferential to a week-long festival as we were talking about designing the city’s living room for the other 51 weeks a year as well. But I digress. The point is that improvements to the riverfront were designed to accommodate the needs of Riverbend and its patrons, and it shows.

Finally, Riverbend is a celebration. It’s a celebration of our natural environment, of our built environment, of our community and for our region. It’s important for us to gather as a community, throw a party for ourselves, and celebrate what it means to be a Chattanoogan. So while you probably won’t see me down there, y’all go, have a good time and drink a cool one for me.

1 comment:

  1. Over the past few years, except to go to a few select bands I really long to here, I too have avoided the Riverbend festival due to the "heat, distance from performers, strech pants, bad hair etc.... . Our son has had the opposite experience and has grown to love it when he used to avoid the Riverbend week. He told me that he has grown to love the excitement of being in a large crowd and being jostled, having 10 city blocks totally packed wiht people, rubbing elbows with others, watching the crowds and feeling the excitement of the crowd. He said it is the only time that Chattanooga "feels like a city to him, say like NY or Chicago" He said "it makes me long for a time when Chattanooga Streets are crowded everyday" This of course was music to my ears....I think I will go next year!