The night Riverbend grew up

    On a very warm summer night in 1985, Chattanooga’s experiment in festivals was in its 4th year.  The first years of the Riverbend Festival were successful, with crowds ranging from a few thousand to as many as 10,000 per night.  The goal of the festival was being met, in that people were coming downtown in large numbers to mingle and mix and enjoy performers from our area and from around the world in a low-key setting.  The 1985 lineup included the Pointer Sisters, who were growing in popularity, having released their album, Break Out, the year before.  1985 was also the year of Beverly Hills Cop, starring Eddie Murphy, featuring the Pointers in Neutron Dance

    A student pilot and I were out doing some night training, and decided to drift over downtown Chattanooga to check out the festival scene.  We witnessed, from the air, a crowd of something over 40,000 people swarming over the festival site.  From our vantage point, it looked like an ant hill.  We could see that people had moved into all kinds of places where they weren’t, normally, on the festival grounds. 

    On the ground, it was close to dangerous.  Fences were pushed over, vendors ran out of food and drink, and the porta-potties overflowed.  There were no major problems, and everybody went home happy.  And the festival was changed from that date.  Ka-ching was the main reaction, and since that time, our little festival has been a very big festival, seeking to entertain ever-larger crowds, attracting them with high-profile performers.