As I made my way across John Ross Bridge to get to Coolidge Park, guitar plucks and a particularly piercing twang started ringing louder. It was S.G. Goodman. She was recalling a podcast that detailed various cults throughout Tennessee, exclaiming “I’m just telling you what I heard. I listened to it on the drive here!” to a delightfully attentive audience.
As Moon River’s second performer of the day, she then went straight into her ubiquitous hit, “Space and Time.” The song was most recently featured as a cover on Tyler Childers’ newest record, “Rustin’ in the Rain,” to immense praise for country fans and Goodman fanatics alike.
A blend of the roots that raised her while still a pioneer of her own personality, there was no one more appropriate than Goodman to effectively kick off Chattanooga’s most premiere music festival.
The city’s become something of a hub for the up and coming in recent years. Still entrenched in the history of its home state, the city offers a pace of life seldom found in its sister cities like Nashville and Knoxville.
While hustle and bustle seem to be creeping into the city limits of its peers, Chattanooga chugs along at a smooth and steady pace. No one in Tennessee seems to know better than here that if you want to be cool, you can’t make it look like you’re trying too hard.
Over on the Poplar stage, we were introduced to the Floridian indie darlings of Flipturn. Much like Goodman, here we saw Flipturn breathe an air of elegance into their rock ballads, chillingly narrated through the eerie tenor of their frontman Dillon Basse. It was bubbly, yet reserved. Seemingly whispering at you before sound exploded off their stage in wildly colorful bursts. It came as a surprise maybe even to themselves when Flipturn chose to rev their engines, as if flexing their sonic muscles spontaneously.
Not without its hiccups, however, we saw a rain delay that came smack in the middle of a raucous set from Seattle’s own The Dip. Shane Smith & the Saints had their set removed, and we returned to Coolidge Park about an hour and a half later – somewhat dry and ready to commence regularly scheduled programming.
Hours came and went, and humidity rose before finally Houndmouth came stumbling onto the stage. As soon as their set began, all the anxieties of last minute changes to plans eroded away into a haze that took over the crowd, leaving spirits high in this otherwise overcast river town.
And as much as it may have tried, the rain didn’t seem to slow this city down in the slightest. It felt almost reinvigorated as Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Moon River’s creator, boarded the stage.
A swarm occurred as people rushed the Poplar stage to get a glimpse of their collaborative project with Johnnyswim, “Goodbye Road,” broke into full force with the album’s title track and opener. The group told us that the performance we were seeing was something totally exclusive to Moon River before they blasted into the carefree anthem, “What Have We Got to Lose.”
If nothing else, hospitality was abundant from Holcomb and the rest of the ensemble. Even Johnnyswim frontman Abner Ramirez took a moment to acknowledge, saying “Drew, I think you’ve found your people!” The only appropriate follow-up song, “Find Your People,” came immediately after.
On top of all this, Holcomb and the gang also brought out Nashville superstar Amy Grant to perform her smash hit “Baby, Baby” to a crowd in perfect time to what was being laid down in front of them — old and new blended into a stew of cool that this crowd scarfed down. When the audience and performer are this in tune, a lot is possible.
Out came Marcus King to the tune of Sergio Leone’s legendary theme for the film “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Certainly, he’s dressed for such a theme with long auburn hair falling out of a cowboy hat – with a feather placed in it, of course – sporting what appears to be a Canadian tuxedo.
The Iris stage was lit up in yellow and red to accompany the appropriately rowdy performance King and his band gifted us with. Like many of his blues and southern forefathers, he was out to have his audience feel as many emotions as possible. His guitar licks were intoxicating, ballads pulled at your heartstrings and authentic oration left few dry eyes.
In the middle of his set, King took a moment to perform “Goodbye Carolina,” a song dedicated to a late friend of his lost to suicide. Monologuing on the importance of mental health, there was a new sense of communalism attached to the rest of the night as the song’s heart-wrenching perspective grabbed the attention of everyone from the front rails up to onlookers atop John Ross Bridge. The crowd was in King’s hand, and he took the task on dutifully.
The night’s finale was the South Carolina based rock band NEEDTOBREATHE. Replacing Caamp on the festival schedule earlier this year, the group didn’t let up on what was expected of them.
Attendee Kaycie Buckingham cited their energy as one of the driving forces of the show.
“They’re just so genuine and so high energy. I think they were a great fit,” Buckingham said. “Even through the weather and everything, you can just tell they’re happy to be here.”
Again, a sense of communalism flooded Coolidge Park with the group’s hit song, “Brother.” With a lineup this invigorating and an atmosphere this inviting, it’s hard not to be excited for Sunday and the great acts to come.