Grab your sunglasses and buy your pins, because it’s time for Riverbend 2013.
This year, as always, thousands will be flocking to Chattanooga’s 21st Century Waterfront to see over 100 music artists perform live on five stages. To get you pumped and ready, CityScope magazine chatted with four of the world-class acts headlining the main stage. Here’s a sneak peak of this year’s festival.
*Opening Night* Friday, June 7, 9:30 p.m. on the Coke Stage
Country music star Jake Owen will open up this year’s Riverbend Festival on June 7. Winning hearts with his good looks and smooth baritone, the 31-year-old achieved his first number one in 2011 with the title track from his third album, Barefoot Blue Jean Night. We talked with Jake Owen about being the new kid on the block, Merle Haggard, and pursuing your dreams.
When you were a kid did you ever imagine yourself as a country music star?
No. I always loved music but I never thought it would be something I would make a living on. I never played guitar growing up or sang really. When I moved off to college, I had an accident and had to have surgery on my shoulder. During a time of rehabilitation, my neighbor had a guitar and I just started teaching myself to play. I realized that I enjoyed that better than I enjoyed anything else in my life.
What inspired you to move to Nashville?
I started a band in college and I played a lot by myself in bars for three or four years. Honestly, I got tired of playing “Sweet Home Alabama” every night. I love the song, but when that’s all people care about, you’re nothing more than a live jukebox. So I rented a U-Haul trailer and packed up everything I had.
Now you’re on your third album—Barefoot Blue Jean Night. What are some of the ways that you’ve evolved as a music artist?
When I got my first deal eight years ago, I was just so excited to have a record and a tour bus. But travelling with artists like Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban—they are the greatest in our format—I learned a lot about myself watching them. My dad always said that if you want to be the best at something, you got to learn from people who are the best. I’ve been able to do that.
Best advice for an aspiring country star?
Pursue your dreams. The other day a kid came up to me and said, “Hey man, I just moved to town like three weeks ago and I don’t know anyone. I’m a big fan and you’re a big reason that I moved to town.” It reminded me exactly of me when I moved to town. I really respected this kid for having the audacity to just walk up and introduce himself to me. The minute I met him, I wanted to pull for him.
Say you were driving cross-country and could only bring one album, what would it be?
Probably a greatest hits CD by Merle Haggard. I really have a lot of respect for artists who make you think. I think if Merle Haggard listened to my music, he probably would hate it and say ‘this guy doesn’t appreciate true country music.’ That’s what’s funny, because I do.
*Faith & Family Night* Tuesday, June 11, 9:30 p.m. on the Coke Stage
The Newsboys are a Christian pop rock band with 16 studio albums, six of which are certified gold. We spoke with current lead singer Michael Tait (former member of D.C. Talk) about becoming the band’s new frontrunner, practical jokes among band members, and living for your faith.
What did you think of Newsboys when you toured with them as D.C. Talk in the ‘90s?
I thought they were cool guys. I toured with them when they first came to the states from Australia, never knowing that one day I’d be the lead singer. They were kind of quirky. They were always playing jokes. They stole an idea from one of our shirts. We had a shirt that said “DO” and they had one that said “OI”—same design and everything. They were big tricksters, you know.
Do you still play practical jokes?
All. The. Time. I’m always on the bus with food or candy or Skittles or something, and I’ll hide it, you know, so they can’t find it. Those jerks go and find my candy and all my Skittles, and they eat them up. I get so mad when I reach in the drawer and it’s not there. (laughs)
What about backstage?
We laugh a lot but we’re not backstage pranksters. We’re too serious about the show coming off great. We don’t want a crappy show. Anything that makes the show suffer, like end-of-tour pranks and stuff, we’re not big on that.
Which Newsboys song made the biggest impression on you before you joined?
I would say “He Reigns” or “Something Beautiful.” They were just solid songs. “He Reigns,” the beginning of it with the guitar, sounds a little bit like U2 and I was a massive Bono fan.
What’s been one of your struggles coming into Newsboys?
Learning to lead the band. With D.C. Talk, Toby, Kevin and I each took turns singing different parts. With Newsboys, I sing all the songs and do all the talking. I’m the baby of nine kids, so it’s definitely made me have to step up to the plate and deliver.
What motivates you to keep producing music?
Toby Mac once said, “Sometimes the only way to a kid’s heart is through their headphones.” And that’s why I keep doing it. Music is powerful. It speaks louder than politicians, pastors, and even parents. Everybody loves music.
At the end of the show, what do you hope your fans come away with?
That it’s OK to believe and have your faith, and that it’s OK even to be martyred for it. We’re not asked to die for it today, like the old days. But we’re asked to live for it.
Thursday, June 13, 9:30 p.m. on the Coke Stage
Legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Lynyrd Skynyrd is unparalleled when it comes to the Southern hard-rock genre. While a devastating plane crash in 1977 took three band members including frontman Ronnie Van Zant, Lynyrd Skynyrd has re-formed with Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie’s younger brother, as its new leader. We spoke with Johnny about the band’s relationship with Coach Skinner, “Sweet Home Alabama,” and keeping Skynyrd alive after all these years.
With a catalogue of over 60 albums and sales beyond 30 million, how do you keep it fresh after 40 years?
It’s just that we love the music. It’s about the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd, what it stands for, what the fans are all about. There’s nothing like getting out there and seeing people love the music. Our latest album, Last of a Dying Breed (released in August 2012), has 11 new songs.
So Lynyrd Skynryrd was named after a particular gym teacher that gave your Gary Rossington trouble about his long hair. Did you have him for gym class too?
Yeah, we all hung out together. He kept hassling us, gave us grief. Coach Skinner kicked us all out. He became famous because of us. He loved it. We developed a friendlier relationship with him in later years. We even invited him to introduce us at a concert in Jacksonville. He passed away a few years ago.
What’s the strangest place you’ve ever heard a Lynyrd Skynyrd song?
There was a movie, “Sweet Home Alabama,” with Reese Witherspoon. A band called Cornbread played the song. I was curious to see what that was all about. Wasn’t bad. Strange to hear another band sing our song.
Are you still doing the three guitarist approach?
Yeah, that’s what Skynyrd is. Definitely. It’s been part of Skynyrd’s heritage for a long time. We are a three-guitar army.
Do you get more requests for “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Free Bird”?
That’s a tough one. In Europe we get more requests for “Sweet Home Alabama.” The Europeans love us. Here, we get more requests for “Free Bird.”
Are there any songs that you guys don’t normally play live that fans might be surprised to hear in your set at Riverbend?
We’re working on new set right now. We’re always trying to put new songs in the set. We’ll also be playing songs from our new album, Last of a Dying Breed. I love Chattanooga. Been there several times. Looking forward to getting back.
*Closing Night* Saturday, June 15, 9:30 on the Coke Stage
O.A.R., a pop/rock band formed in 1996 in Rockville, Md., will close out this year’s Riverbend festival. With seven studio albums and five live performance albums to date, the band is well-known for their extensive summer touring. We talked with guitarist Richard On about Pearl Jam, muzak, and his best advice for young bands.
So I heard all of you went to high school together in Rockville. What were you like back then?
We actually all went to middle school together and like any other 8th graders, we probably thought we knew everything. But not when it came to music. Our ears were open to anything that inspired us.
What are your favorite songs to play in the set right now?
We just started playing a new song called, “We’ll Pick Up Where We Left Off.” After playing it only once so far, I’m very excited to play it again. That’s at the top of my list right now.
How does your new material differ from your older material?
When we were 16, we didn’t know what we were doing. It was just four guys in the basement, making songs because it felt great. Fast forward to later, we’re all in our 30s and I think our songwriting has matured. We’ve learned from other artists about how they do things and your world just kind of opens up as to the direction you could head in. I think all the songs that we’re writing now show where we are musically in our lives and our careers.
If you could tour with any band right now, who would it be?
It would be amazing to tour with a band like Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam is the band that made us want to be a band when we were in middle school. I wouldn’t say they were an inspiration musically, but the energy that they had when they performed live and the route they took with their musical career were really inspirational for us.
What’s a weird time or place where you’ve heard an O.A.R. song?
The other day I was in an elevator and I was listening to a muzak version of “Hey Girl.” No one really listens to the music on an elevator especially if it’s muzak. (laughs) But I noticed the tune and I was like, “Is this one of our songs?” It was funny because the guy next to me was whistling along with it. So at least he was enjoying the muzak.
For the rest of 2013 and beyond, what can fans look forward to?
We recently released a live CD and DVD, Live on Red Rocks, so now we’re writing for a new studio record that will hopefully be out sometime at the end of this year. We have a lot of new songs and we recently started playing a couple of them live at shows.
What advice would you give to fledgling bands?
I think that you shouldn’t be precious about places that you play. In our case, we played anywhere that would give us a power outlet, from synogoges to water ski house parties. That helps you hone your chops as a band.