Moon River has yet again proven why it is my favorite city festival. This year was a blast even though I didn’t vibe with the lineup as much. You might be asking “But if you didn’t like the lineup-why is it still your favorite?” Well, Moon River is one of the best-run festivals that I have ever attended. The lineup doesn’t matter to me as much because the expectation of having a great experience is met year on year. I plan on attending every year that I can, and it doesn’t hurt I live less than two hours from Chattanooga with a Bucees halfway in between.
What do I mean by a great experience? Let me explain what happened on the first day of the festival this year. I was seeing The Dip absolutely slay their early set, with their full horns section on fire. I looked behind me towards Walnut Street Bridge, a walking bridge that goes over the festival grounds where people watch both stages for free. A huge lightning bolt stretches across the sky, and we are all shuffled out of the venue as a summer storm was blowing through. No one was bickering or complaining about the evacuation, just walking back to the boardwalk next to the festival where folks found shelter in restaurants and various boutique stores. I ended up shacking up at Inherent Records, a small record store nestled within Collective Clothing, where I grabbed two Tyler Childers albums. When the rain subsided, I took a brief walk to my car parked behind Milk and Honey for $5 (a little secret I found out about last year) and returned to Moon River right when the music was starting back up.
The main reason why there was no panic is how the cancelation on Sunday was handled by Drew Holcomb. Most of the Sunday performers didn’t play because of a thunderstorm, so Drew pivoted the event to an indoor space and had a majority of the talent who didn’t play perform at the nearby Memorial Auditorium. The event was made free for anyone who had a Moon River wristband and was attended by around 3,000 people. It even featured some of the big talent slated for that night including Charley Crockett, Abraham Alexander, and Leon Bridges. The show became a once-in-a-lifetime experience created only from a worst-case scenario of an event cancelation. And everyone was fully refunded for their Sunday ticket or half of their total purchase for a two-day ticket. The expectation for Moon River has been set that the show will go on regardless of rain and that folks will be taken care of.
On top of the expectation of a grand experience, there are little gems about this festival that really make it truly unique. Coolidge Park, the grounds of the festival, has a carousel that is free to ride during Moon River for those who want to relive a childhood experience or to create one for their little ones. Right outside the carousel is a huge water fountain where kids can cool off and play while listening to the main stage. Between the stages is a sports bar area that broadcasts college football and NFL games all weekend so sports fans won’t miss any action. And you can re-enter the festival, meaning you can walk down the street to a gas station, a Walgreens Pharmacy, or over a dozen different eateries.
All of the extras I’ve talked about here were offered in 2023 with a standard GA ticket. VIP would have been a completely different experience, and something I do want to try in the future, but in my opinion is not required for a comfy experience at Moon River. You get so much value out of a standard ticket, both within the festival grounds and because of the festival’s location in Coolidge Park. And with the added expectation that you will see music, rain or shine, gives you an idea of why I have such high regard for the Moon River festival. I really hope they can keep this shine going year after year.
Looking forward to another Moon River in 2024! If my writing has inspired you to join me next year, make sure to get your tickets early. The festival sold out soon after tickets went on sale this year. Some tickets were made available closer to the event, but I wouldn’t rely on that happening again. Or if you miss out on tickets, maybe consider coming out to the Walnut Street Bridge to still hear some amazing music!