A Moon River Virgin

It’s been a couple of years since Moon River Festival relocated to the Scenic City (2018). The brainchild of Americana/folk artist Drew Holcomb originally in his hometown of Memphis, TN, I fought off going down to Coolidge Park for three years before giving in this year.

I’m a festival kind of guy. While I hate crowds (vehemently), I love the variety of music most have on display except maybe that one by the former owners of KZ’s Wings & Things in the late ‘90s. I still think it was a front for some kind of illegal activity. But I digress. It’s been a couple of years now thanks to the great pandemic and I was itching to see live music, so I sucked it up and decided to attend this year.

I was always impressed and actually surprised at how fast the event sold out every year. This is Chattanooga. Nothing ever sells out here traditionally. The original Van Halen, ZZ Top, Cher, Diana Ross, KISS… nope.

Shovels & Rope performing on the Poplar Stage at Moon River Festival. Photo ©Dave Weinthal

Thanks to an influx of new blood over the past ten years of so, show surprisingly started selling out much to my joy. And as much as I love my road trips to Atlanta, Nashville and other destinations in my quest for great live music, I have been overjoyed to see Chattanooga starting to become a destination location for live instead of just a stopover.

Those in charge of Moon River Festival have done a really good job of choosing talent for the event. A lot of times smaller festivals have trouble finding talent with name recognition. The only reason I refer to Moon River as small it that there are only two stages. For the area and the amount of music and the layout of the festival this was a perfect festival. Literally within minutes of one band ending another started. Foot traffic between the two stages was not the hike like at some of the stages at Riverbend or Music Midtown. Traffic kept moving making it a breeze to catch all acts. I wish all were as simple and effective as Moon River.

I was introduced to a lot of new band that even I wasn’t familiar with. There were a few I was familiar and had seen like Shovels & Rope and The Aces. Both bands I like. Shovels & Rope are what I refer to as an Americana White Stripes, put on a blistering set. I saw them back in August opening for Greta Van Fleet and they looked more in sync. They seemed more comfortable at Moon River and the sound was a lot better for their set than when I saw them earlier.

The Aces are an all-girl alt rock act that are true rock and roll. The cool thing about them is that you can watch individual members and they all have their own personality and talent to boot. Some bands I knew by name by had never seen like Mipso and Hippo Campus. Both bands had a huge following at the festival as the crowd got increasingly louder.

Overcoats were a unique band with co-lead singers, who danced around on stage (literally). The highlight of the night was the headliner of the Poplar Stage, Lord Huron. With a set dressed with neon cactus and well… neon/ LED lighting everywhere they put on a whirlwind set that had everyone hanging on their every note. Lead singer Ben Schneider was a whirlwind on stage as he danced around and whipped his hair around. He had almost a Jim James aura about him as the band’s performance mesmerized the crowd.

The Aces performing on the Iris Stage at Moon River Festival. Photo ©Dave Weinthal

A latecomer (as far as attending the festival) I am a convert. My cynical side that is usually exposed by various festivals and their staff and attendee was at bay as the day and night were enjoyable offering a little for everyone. I was a little confused with all the infants in attendance (having to dodge some strollers) as a music festival doesn’t seem like a place for babies – but that’s just me. Random quote from the day. A girl hurriedly rushed past me yelling, “I need some frozen alcohol.” Ah, the random things you remember besides great talent on the stages.

 – Dave Weinthal