The Great, The Mediocre And The Ugly As Homemade Sin – A Look At Riverbend 2010
The Riverbend Festival is one of Chattanooga’s premier events. I enjoy the 4 Bridges Art Festival, Riverfront Nights, the Nightfall Concert Series, The Chattanooga Market and many other events. I look forward to Riverbend though, more than any other local happening. Every year while the fireworks are lighting up the night following the last performance I’m already anticipating next year’s festival.
There are two kinds of Riverbend people: Coke Stage People and Side Stage People. Acknowledging that every rule has exceptions, Coke Stage People are usually casual music fans or folks who come out for the event itself. Side Stage People are most often serious music fans.
The Riverbend organizers and music selection committee have a difficult task. They have a fixed amount of money with which to procure talent for the festival, so each year they have to juggle genres, quality and recognizable names to put together a lineup. Every year the end result is different.
This year’s festival was the year of the Coke Stage, and the side stages (with some notable exceptions) paid the price. The main stage lineup was so impressive that my son could hardly believe we had so many big names in Chattanooga in one week. This is not to say that the side stage regulars couldn’t or didn’t enjoy the main stage acts. Alison Krauss, The Waybacks with friends with the CSO, Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker are great musicians as well as being popular performers. Other main stage acts are currently popular or are nothing short of legendary, and they had a lot to offer their fans as well.
There are, however, almost four hours of music from the time the gates open until the Coke Stage lights up. The music fans that look forward to the eclectic variety of music Riverbend offers have always found the side stages to be places where they could enjoy quality acts with national cult followings, discover new artists that they would enjoy for years to come or have a less popular but critically renowned virtuoso hold them captive for an hour they would never forget.
This year’s festival left the side stage folk sharing one thought openly – “The side stages are off this year.” I repeat: there were notable exceptions, but I agree that the side stage offerings didn’t live up to expectations. One reason is that we saw far more local acts this year than we are accustomed to seeing. Our local talent is great, and I am a regular follower of many of the local acts that appeared. Therein lies the problem. Most of the local acts that appeared this year are acts that I and many others at the Unum and TVCU stages see regularly at other local venues.
I’m glad to see some of my favorite local performers have an opportunity to play to a larger than usual audience, and they all put on good shows. But while past years have left me scratching my head trying to decide between two enticing acts in the same time slot, this year there were entire slots that didn’t offer anyone of real interest to me.
That said, it was still an enjoyable festival and undoubtedly the best entertainment value anywhere. Following are a few remarks on individual acts:
Best Local Act: Milele Roots
Grunge meets reggae band Milele Roots put on a great show and proved once again why they’re one of the local music scene’s most popular and lasting acts. They’re a great example of a cross-genre act that appeals to a broad range of fans and tastes.
Other notable performances by local artists: Sistren, Moonslew, Butch Ross and Joe Decosimo, Roger Alan Wade, Angel Snow, John Lathim and Slim Pickins.
Individual Performer Most Fun To Watch: Jeremy Stacy
Sheryl Crow’s drummer was nothing less than a machine. The guy looks like a real-life incarnation of Mario from the video game, but man could he play the drums.
Runner up: Pat McDonald of the Charlie Daniels Band. Charlie has always held to the 1970’s “long drum solo to give the band a break” formula, and McDonald’s drum solo was one the best I’ve ever seen.
Best Musical Performance: The Waybacks, Joan Osborne, John Cowan, Jens Kruger and the CSO
I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a more enjoyable, entertaining and technically perfect performance than Sunday night’s Mystery Rock Revue. I’m a dedicated fan of The Waybacks and knew the all-star cast of friends and the Chattanooga Symphony would collaborate to put together a great show. I was not disappointed, nor were a lot of people around me who came not knowing what to expect but left amazed at what they heard. Abbey Road was the perfect album for such an effort, and it was good to see the CSO play a major part in the production. They were marvelous.
Runner Up: The Waybacks performing on the Unum Stage. Each member of
The Waybacks is a virtuoso in his own right, and their work as a band is incredible. Whether Warren Hood is playing a violin or a fiddle depends on the song. Jerre Haskew once described guitarist James Nash like this: “Lots of guys are fast. James is fast and clean, like no one else I know.” Joe Kyle, Jr.’s understated bass is always perfect, and Chuck Hamilton combines technical perfection on percussion with some serious cool and soul.
Most Disappointing Performance: George Clinton and P-Funk
Funk is not my favorite genre, but I’m a huge fan of Mother’s Finest and really enjoy the tight bass, drum and guitar combinations for which great funk bands are known. P-Funk was neither tight nor funky. They were little more than 15 or so individuals milling around on stage making noise while their leader was nowhere to be seen. Some people have mentioned Clinton’s age (he’s almost 70 years old) as the reason for his weak vocals and lack of stage time, but I’ve seen plenty of performers his age go on strong. I hear they got better late, but why wait until your set is supposed to end to get going?
Runner-up: Jimmy Webb. Being a great songwriter doesn’t always translate to being a good performer. Jimmy Webb is a great songwriter, but if you didn’t know he wrote the songs he was singing you would assume you were hearing a lounge singer, and a not-so-great lounge singer at that.
Best Stage Performance: Dan Baird and Homemade Sin
All musicians should love playing their music and have as much fun doing it as do these guys. I’m serious. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen any group do what they did on stage. Their self-deprecating name is quite appropriate. The Rolling Stones are the only uglier band I’ve ever seen, and Homemade Sin demonstrates similar chemistry between members as the Stones. This was one of the best raw energy shows I’ve seen in a long while.
Biggest Surprise: Charlie Daniels Band
I first saw Charlie Daniels in 1976, and prior to last night I had seen the CDB three times. I’ve seen pre-conversion Charlie and born-again Charlie, and I’ve never been disappointed. But Charlie is 74 years old, and with recent reports of Charlie’s health concerns I expected a decent but laid-back show. Nope. Charlie has always had high musical standards for his band and every show was energetic. This show was no different. The old man can still bring it, and he did. Maybe George Clinton should check with Charlie and find out where to buy some good vitamins.
Legend Of The Year: Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson
In my humble opinion, no one is worth seeing simply because they are a legend. But legend doesn’t always mean “washed-up” either. Hillman and Pederson brought a beautiful and inspiring blend of past hits and new collaborative efforts that were in the true spirit of the Unum stage.
What about the other main stage acts? Alison Krauss, Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker were entertaining. How could they not be? They’re Alison Krauss, Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker. What was lacking from their performances, more than anything, was the fault of the setting and not the artists themselves. Vocals are consistently hard to hear, and crowd noise really interferes with the sound even when you have good seats. But again, many of the Coke Stage folks aren’t there for the music as much as for the party.
Other acts of note: The Seven Walkers, San Rafael, Drivin N Crying, and Tom Russell. All were the kinds of acts that make the Riverbend Festival a great place to spend your evenings one week every year.
A final note: Tonya and I decided to stay home this year and take a vacation planned around the Riverbend Festival. We did some hiking and canoeing, visited several local attractions that we haven’t seen in years or at all, and ate at some great local restaurants that we had not visited before. It was a great week, and we realized well into the week that we could plan five more vacations here at home and not see everything we want to see. We kept our money in the community, and every day reminded us that we live in the best city on earth. What a blessing.