Riverbend 2014

Grab your sunglasses and buy your pins, because it’s time for Riverbend 2014. This year, as always, thousands will be flocking to Chattanooga’s 21st Century Waterfront to see over 100 music artists perform live on six stages. To get you pumped up, CityScope magazine chatted with four of the world-class acts headlining the main stage. Here’s a sneak peak of this year’s festival.

By Laura Childers

Full PDF here.

Gary Allan
ove) Photo by Eric Adkins

Since he signed to Decca Records in 1996, Country music superstar Gary Allan has had 26 singles hit the Billboard Hot Country charts, including five that reached the No. 1 spot. His ninth studio album, Set You Free, hit No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart in February of last year. We talked to Allan about Set You Free, his favorite song to play right now, and what to expect at Riverbend on opening night.

Growing up in California, what inspired you to start playing country music?
My dad was a big country music fan and had a band. I started playing in bars with him and my brother when I was very young. That sort of set the tone for everything with me.

Coming from California, what was your first impression of Tennessee when you got to Nashville to start recording?
I had always been a country fan and wanted to come to Nashville to make a demo, so I was just excited. To get to work with Nashville session players and be in studios where so many of the legends had played was quite a thrill for me.

How did you feel the first time you heard your song on the radio?
I remember being so excited and just thinking this couldn’t really be happening. I had waited so long and it was finally me coming through those speakers. It was a dream come true.

What was your first impression of Tennessee when you got to Nashville to start recording?
I had always been a country fan and wanted to come to Nashville to make a demo, so I was just excited. To get to work with Nashville session players and be in studios where so many of the legends had played was quite a thrill for me.

How does Set You Free compare to your previous eight albums?
I think every album reflects where I am in life at that moment, so I think my music has grown and matured with me. You can hear that in Set You Free. It sounds very different from the first album.

If you had to pick a favorite song from your entire career, what would it be?
That is a tough one. I have different favorites at different times. My favorite right now is “It Ain’t The Whiskey.” I wish I had written that song. I love the way it is written, I love to perform it, and I love the reaction we get when we play it each night. It is one of my all-time favorite songs.

What musical influences shape your records and who are your favorite artists – country and otherwise – of the past and present?
I have a lot of favorite artists, but the people who have had the biggest influences on me are my dad, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Buck Owens, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson. Those guys made an impact on me at an early age.

Have you ever been to Chattanooga?
It has been a few years, but yes, I have been to Chattanooga.

What can the people of Chattanooga look forward to seeing at your Riverbend performance?
You can expect a mix of some of the new songs from Set You Free, as well as a lot of the hits from all the previous albums and just maybe a few new things we have been working on for the next album. You can plan on a good time, that is a guarantee!
Opening Night: Friday, June 6 at 9:30 p.m. on the Coca-Cola Stage


Widespread Panic 
Transcending the boundaries of rock and roll for over 28 years, Widespread Panic is one of the most quintessential jam bands in the history of American music. To date, the band has sold over 3 million records – but of course, their diehard fans will tell you that there’s nothing like a live performance. We spoke with drummer Todd Nance about the “jamming” state of mind, his inspirations, and keeping it fresh every night.Riverbend2014_2

I heard you were born in Chattanooga.
I sure was! 1962. I make back every year. Two or three times a year at least. The band has been playing in Chattanooga since 1989 I think.

Your bandmate once told the Miami Times that “people either love you or they hate you.” Does your music really have that effect on people?
(laughs) Maybe not so much as it did in the past. Now-a-days our music has crossed over through a couple generations. When we first started we played for college kids, and yeah, they’d pretty much either love us or hate us. It was more black and white. But as the band grew and became more diverse, that started changing a little bit.

So the younger generation is digging it!  
Most definitely. And a lot of them seem to be the children of our original fans that date back to their college days. You see a lot of fans and kids of those fans go to shows together, which is really strange to see at a rock concert, but it’s pretty common at ours.

You’re more of a touring band than a radio type band. You guys spend roughly half your year on the road?
Yeah, it’s about six months a year.

Do you still get the thrill?
Yes, I do! Very much so. I can’t sleep the night before – stuff like that. I mean it’s work. It’s hard. But still, it’s what we love to do. And after about a month or two, you’re ready to go home. (laughs) But we’ve been doing it for about 28 years. I think we must like it a little bit. (laughs)

How do you decide what to play on a certain night?
It really does reflect the mood of the day. It’s kind of organic and real. Like, if we had a bad day, we may play aggressively and strong, or if we feel mellow and laid back, it might be that kind of show. We definitely feed off each other and each other’s moods and personalities.

When you’re “jamming”– what’s going through your mind?
It’s like a reflex memory. Some people call it “numb-mindedness.” Some people call it “the zone.” You kind of get into a consciousness where you are just reacting to what you are hearing instead of thinking. When that happens, it’s pretty fun. It’s kind of what you are shooting for. It doesn’t always happen. But that’s why people come see us, and sometimes more than once – because of the chance that that moment may happen. Whether or not it’s bad, it’s gonna be different. (laughs)

What’s the craziest thing a fan has done?
Are you familiar with The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

Ok, so they have these little things from the key dialogue of the movie that’ll make them dress a certain way or behave a certain way. And our songs tend to do that to some of our fans. They’ll dress up thematically. They’re just out having a good time. We don’t tell anybody to do anything, but if they want to do that, that’s completely fine. I don’t really know why they do it, but I know they have fun with it because they enjoy themselves.

What are some of your favorite albums?
You know, the other day somebody asked me, ‘If you were stranded on an island and could only take three songs, what would they be?’ So my answer was, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” “In my Life” by John Lennon, and “Rocket in my Pocket” by NRBQ.

That’s a really diverse set of music!
(laughs) Yeah, well, we are pretty much affected by anything we see or hear. You know, that’s one of the nice things about growing up in the South. That you get exposed to great music. And if you think about Rhapsody in Blue — it’s classical. But it’s American classical because its got American music like the blues.

Is there anything you are looking forward to doing while you are in Chattanooga?
Seeing my mom!
Saturday, June 7 at 9:00 p.m. on the Coca-Cola Stage


Toby Mac
With 11 million albums sold and 6 Grammy® Awards to his credit, recording artist TobyMac is one of the best-known Christian pop and hip-hop artists out there. His latest album, Eye on It,  entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1 when it was released in August 2012. We talked with Toby about labels, his love for Chattanooga, and his thoughts on the songwriting process. Riverbend2014_3

You’re usually called a “Christian hip-hop artist.” How do you feel about that?
I think I would call myself a pop-funk-hip-hop artist. And you know, sometimes that “Christian” label causes your music to fall on deaf ears. For me, I would love for people to just figure out for themselves what they can take away from it. Because when I sit down to write a song, I try to write a song for everybody. I don’t just have a niche Christian market in my head. So I think it should just be up on the shelf with music in general and people should gravitate toward the things that they love, whether it’s based on a message or based on a style. Now, I am a Christian. But I’m just saying that that moniker, that label, sometimes causes music to fall on deaf ears and I want my music to fall on open ears. I want people to experience it and then decide for themselves.

Your latest album Eye on It has a dubstep vibe. When did you start getting into that type of music?
Well, it’s definitely not a dubstep record by any means, but I think I definitely tip a hat to it. I look at music as this: I’m a pop artist and music is moving like a river, and I’m in that river moving with it. So you start to experience different things. All of a sudden, kellog keyboards become a big deal and things with oscillators became a big deal. So, you look up, and because you’re in this moving river of music, you get affected by these things. Your mind starts to open to these types of things and you start to dabble in it a bit. Which I love – I love that about being what I call a “schizophrenic pop artist.” I can dabble and dabble. I’ve always been that way.

You once said, “I want my music to depict what I’m going through. I want to write about the things that are real.” Any musicians you think are doing that well today? 
I definitely feel like Ryan Tedder from One Republic is without a doubt an inspiring artist. Matt Carney is a friend of mine, an artist that I love, who pours himself out there in his lyrics. I mean, this might be a little controversial, and I hope people understand what I’m saying with that preface, but I think Kanye West tells people how he feels. When he’s going through something emotionally, he lets you know it. You feel what he’s feeling in his tracks. Now, I don’t agree with everything he says of course, and sometimes the vulgar side of the way he communicates… I feel a little more responsible than to say it that way. Ok, not a little more. I feel a lot more responsibility. But I do think he’s a guy that’s speaking from his heart and he’s speaking from the things that he’s going through, and there’s something to that. I think looking back, Bob Marley was a guy that let you know how he was feeling and he was amazing at combining social issues with spiritual insight. Again, he was Rastafarian—I’m a Christian. We don’t agree on everything. But, I do think he had a way of communicating that was impressive.

What’s one interview question you hate?
(laughs) Well, you know—I don’t hate to be asked it. But I get the question allll the time, “When is D.C. Talk going to get back together?” And, I mean, the Diverse City Band and I have been together for over 10 years, and we’re absolutely passionate about what we are doing. You know, it’s like I climbed the D.C. Talk mountain, and Michael, Kevin, and I decided, “OK, let’s go back down.” Well, I started climbing a new mountain with Diverse City, my band. And we are absolutely on the edge of our seat with everything that comes at us and every song we get to play every night we get to do a concert. It’s a complete labor of love.

You’ve been a mentor to hundreds of artists. Has there been an artist that’s been Justin Bieber to your Usher?
You know, it’s great to walk alongside artists as they begin to discover what they can do. Somebody like Jamie Grace, for instance, as she blossoms. I signed her to a record deal and write songs with her, and I thought I was supposed to inspire her and walk alongside her. But it’s strange how it works. She ends up inspiring me to want to dig deeper with my songs and dig deeper with my fan base. So, the mentoring sorts of relationship that I get in, they’re definitely dually beautiful. And Jamie Grace is from Atlanta, an African-American artist. She’s amazing. I’ve been privileged to walk with her from the last four years and watch her just bloom into something amazing. Far deeper and more prolific than I ever imagined when I first met her. She has just grown and grown.

What’s one of the weirdest places you’ve heard one of your songs?
Well, usually, if ESPN or a film or a video game is going to use your music, you know about it. But, a few years back, when the Arizona Cardinals came out onto the field – I can’t remember what Superbowl it was – they chose to come out to my song “Ignition.” It was weird because it was played in the stadium, but it wasn’t on the television. And, I was sitting there at my house – we had like 20 friends over – and I literally was eating a bowl of chili and I heard this riff and  was like, “Wait! That sounds like…” And all of a sudden I was like, “They came out to my song!!!” So, it was just kind of crazy because I didn’t expect it at all. I didn’t know about it. Like with Transporters 2 –they used one of my songs and I thought that was really cool to see that in the theater. But I knew it was coming, you know what I mean? To watch the Cardinals come out unannounced and unbeknownst to me was pretty amazing. 

What do you think of Chattanooga?
I mean, Chattanooga is like the secret diamond of Tennessee. I mean, I’ve gone there just to write. I’ve gone there for a couple days to hang out with my family. I love Chattanooga. It’s one of my favorite cities definitely on this side of the country. And you know, I’ve even done after shows, you know. Like back in the day when Club Fathom existed, we would do a show at the arena and then run to Club Fathom afterwards and do songs for people just because we wanted to love on Chattanooga and the people there.

You once said that you were “wired for the live show.” Do you do any sort of preshow warm up?
You know, I tour with these artists sometimes that are great singers and they’ll warm up for like an hour. I’ll hear them in their dressing rooms doing “mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi” (sings scale). But for me, I basically kind of do it the fast version. As I’m walking down the hallway toward the stage, I just scream three or four times, just to get the old engine cranked up, man. But yeah, you know, my band prays backstage, gets ready, talks about it a little bit. And I think about that city as I walk toward the stage. I want it to be a unique opportunity, you know. A unique moment. I don’t want to be like, “OK, it’s another city.” I usually walk around that city a little bit that day and try to experience it. It just gives you a little insight as you take the stage. And then as I walk toward the mike, I always have this prayer I’ve prayed for a long time. It’s in one of my songs called “Steal my Show.” I say, “Alright God, I’m gonna go do this. Steal this show, it’s Yours.”

What’s one of your favorite songs to perform live right now?
I love doing “Eye On It” because it’s perfectly obnoxious. “Speak Life” is another song I’m really enjoying right now, because I think it’s significant. It means a lot to me to think that that song’s message is going out to people. You know, I wrote it after reading a Brendan Manning quote that said, “In every encounter, we either give life or drain it. There is not neutral exchange.” And I think most people are probably like me, they just don’t always realize that. It’s difficult for us to remember that everyone we come into contact with leaves us feeling either drained a little bit more, or feeling a little more alive. And personally, I want to be responsible with my words. I want to use them to speak life to people.

For the rest of 2014, anything you would like share about upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums? 
Um, yeah, I’m making a record. And I’m just trying to write songs that are real and poignant and cause people to think. Cause people to love better. It’s important to me as I make this record. It’s not just like I’m going into the studio with this jaded outlook of like, “Oh, I gotta make another record.” It’s sort of exciting, like, ‘What opportunities do I have here? What things can I make people aware of? What can I share with people that I’ve learned along the way from the mistakes that I’ve made. You know, I look at music as something to serve people, not something that is self-indulgent. I hope my songs make people feel revived. So the songwriting process is an important time for me and I take it very very seriously.

Faith & Family Night: Tuesday, June 10 at 9:00 p.m. on the Coca-Cola Stage


Justin Moore
Watch out – because 30-year-old Justin Moore is joining the ranks of the hottest names in country music. Earlier this month, Moore won the sought-after “New Artist of the Year” Award at the 2014 Academy of Country Music Awards. Now he’s more than half-way through his 57-city tour that began in November. We talked to Moore about his early career in country music, his latest album Off the Beaten Path, and the music artists that inspire him.Riverbend2014_4

When did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in country music?
It started after I recorded a demo for my mom and dad – they wanted me to do it before I left for college. I guess I liked the attention it received. It prompted me to have an interest in playing music live. After that, my uncle had a southern rock band that I started to play with. That gave me the itch and I still haven’t gotten rid of it.

What drew you to music first – singing or songwriting?
I love the process of songwriting and couldn’t imagine not doing it. But from the beginning, singing and performing were most important to me. They still are. They’re why I got into music in the first place.

How does Off the Beaten Path compare to your previous albums?
OTBP is the most diverse album of my career. It was my goal to record an album that allowed me to stay true to what I have done up to this point in my career, but also to grow as an artist. I think we accomplished that. I took a couple risks on the album that I hadn’t taken before. I’ve been thrilled with the response.

If you had to pick a favorite song from your new album – and one from any album you’ve done – what would they be?
I would say “That’s How I Know You Love Me” is my favorite song on the new album. I’ve always thought that songs that feel personal to me probably feel the same way to the masses too. That song is very personal to me even though I didn’t write it. As far as my favorite song on any album, I’d have to say “Outlaws Like Me.” I think it’s the best song I’ve ever written. It also has to do with my own story.

What musical inspirations shape your records?
I listened to old-school country growing up mixed in with a little Southern classic rock. I think you can probably hear the influence of both styles throughout my albums. More specifically, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams Jr., and Dwight Yoakam are three of my biggest influences.

In your bio, one of your songs is described as “booty country” because it calls out celebs like J-Lo and Kim Kardashian. Is this a new genre we should know about?
(laughs) Let me first say, I never dubbed it “booty country.” (laughs) But to me, it does seem to follow suit with what country has become lately. It’s heavily saturated with pop music and pop culture now. It’s not my favorite thing I do, but it’s fun and people get a kick out of it. I think that as an artist, you have to be aware of the musical climate around you.

Have you ever been to Chattanooga?
I’ve been to Chattanooga a number of times. The fans are always great. Radio has been wonderful to me there. I always look forward to coming back.

What can we look forward to at Riverbend?
We have a very high-energy show. I feel like it’s our job to throw a party for a couple hours. Through the years I’ve learned that if we have fun on stage, it’s infectious. So that’s our goal every night.
Thursday, June 12 at 9:30 p.m. on the Coca-Cola Stage


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