Five suggestions to keep you from losing your [email protected]&% at Riverbend 2012

Authored By Sean Phipps

Chattanooga’s Riverbend festival is once again upon us, for better or worse. Admittedly, I haven’t attended the festival in a couple of years because my therapist recommended I stay clear of large clusters of particularly intoxicated people. Riverbend 2009 was my last attempt at nine days of fun. I tried to be a trooper and attend every night. Much was learned as I saw my media peers succumb to the heat and chaos around them. As we approach this year’s festival on June 8, I thought it would be an excellent time to give you some tips on how to stay the course through the nine days of excitement. Please let me know of any other tips you might have. 

It should be noted that my first suggestion would be to just not go to Riverbend. Plenty of people in the region come to Riverbend. If you have the opportunity to skip town and go to the beach or mountains, then by all means, just go. Going downtown during Riverbend and not attending Riverbend is just the worst idea ever. Worst case scenario is that you miss Mickey Dolenz singing “The Last Train to Clarksville.” I think you’ll live. 

. but if you must go to Riverbend …

Side stages, side stages, side stages
It makes me very sad for the people who arrive at the festival grounds at 4 p.m. and make a beeline for their spot in front of the Coca-Cola stage. And then they sit there for five hours, never once moving as arguably more interesting music is happening at the other stages. Here’s a tip: Getting closer to the Coca-Cola stage doesn’t mean you’ll have a better view of the performance; it just means that you’re closer to the stage. They have giant screens scattered all around the festival to get up-close views of sexy Johnny Rzeznik and his Dolls of Goo Goo. Get out and venture to the stage by the Hunter Museum or underneath the Walnut Street Bridge. That’s where the hippy jive stuff is happening. Better yet, just walk around until showtime at the big stage, and then plop down in the grass somewhere. There’s no need to fight for a seat to see Lauren Alaina. Nobody is going to know her name in a decade anyway. (My email address is linked below.)

Establish an entry and exit plan on Day 1
The first day of Riverbend is a lot like your first day in a new school or job. You kind of have to lay low and feel everything out before you can settle in. The first thing to do is find decent parking or befriend somebody who lives near downtown who might let you park in his or her driveway. UTC is a favorite place to park because it’s just far enough away to avoid those parking fees, plus there’s nobody there in June. I also like to park in a metered space in front of Chattanooga Billiards Club on Eighth and Cherry streets. That way, if I get bored at the festival, I can just go have a drink and cigar and forget about the whole thing. The best entrance for you depends on how much walking you want to do and how much security you want to deal with. I always enter Riverbend near the Hunter Museum. 

Don’t eat the vendor food
There will come a time (usually around Day 4) when the various scintillating offers from Riverbend food vendors will go from “not appealing and gross” to “I think I could probably eat that and enjoy it.” Do not succumb, my friends. Choosing to eat a giant corn dog on a stick is a decision made by a person who has decided to give up on life. There is no reason, other than stupidity, that you should choose to eat any of the flash-fried food options at Riverbend. It makes no sense in the heat, and you will vomit profusely. It’s true, there are several local vendors inside the festival grounds, but even then, those choices don’t make any sense because of the cost ($10 for two slices of pizza?). My suggestion is to eat dinner at home before you come to the festival or visit a local restaurant outside of the festival grounds. The common complaint I hear from most local restaurants is that their business just dies during Riverbend. Everybody eats the terrible food instead of the delicious offerings a block away. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the corn dogs. 

Tolerance and deep breaths
Another issue with attending Riverbend is that there just isn’t a place to get away from everybody if you need just a moment of solitude. The chances for a complete mental meltdown, at least in my case, are easily doubled while inside the festival. I just am not the type of person that can enjoy myself in the type of setting Riverbend offers. It’s as if thousands of alien people have crawled from out of the woodlands and decided the Chattanooga Riverfront is where they should meet and possibly breed for just nine days a year. This is why we all must practice tolerance. If I find myself wanting to shout obscenities at strangers, that is MY problem and not theirs. I have to be in control. My advice is also my therapist’s advice: Take several deep breaths. This gives you an opportunity to calm your nerves (and the offending person the opportunity to run away). 

Attend the Bessie Smith Strut if nothing else
The Bessie Smith Strut will take place this year, even after an attempt to shut it down. This is easily my favorite night during all of Riverbend and truly one of the only times throughout the year that all cultures and ethnicities can unite for a raucous block party. The strut is what our city is about: a mix of culture, good music, history and ridiculous food. I won’t eat a corn dog on a stick, but you’re damn right I’ll eat a giant turkey leg or a barbecue rib sandwich. I’ve seen far more love (in the worldly sense) at the strut over the years than violence. There’s just no reason to miss out on what I think is one of Chattanooga’s best nights. I may even go against my therapist’s advice and venture down to M.L. King Boulevard if only to get my blues on and to refill my Tupperware container full of Shea butter.

You can contact Sean Phipps via email and Twitter with comments and questions. The opinions expressed in this opinion column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.