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Moon River Music Festival 2018 – Day 1

Moon River Music Festival Presented by Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors

Chattanooga, TN at Coolidge Park

The Avett Brothers, The Head and The Heart, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Judah and the Lion… need we say more? Including a diverse range of bands from genres including bluegrass, americana, folk, singer-songwriter, and folk-hop, the sold out Moon River Festival provided for a packed weekend full of banjos and boot stomping.

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Moon River Festival majorly improved this year. From the location, to the plethora of acts, food vendors, activities and everywhere in between. Attracting nearly 10,000 people to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the weekend, the city was flooded with festival goers.

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Held at Coolidge Park, in the heart of Chattanooga right near the breathtaking Tennessee River, festival goers were presented a lovely impression of the city and all that it has to offer.

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The smaller music festival, curated and created by Drew Holcomb, was originally located in Memphis, Holcomb’s hometown. After realizing that the popularity of the music festival had greatly outgrown its birthplace, the Levitt Shell, Holcomb took it upon himself to find a new home for the musical event. As the festival nearly tripled its size this year, festival organizers still found a way to maintain the intimacy that was present in previous years.

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Two stages with staggered schedules allowed more artists to play and overall, gave more satisfaction to fans. Whether it was seeing The Avett Brothers jam out on a sweet summer night, or hearing Joseph’s heavenly harmonies, Moon River had it all and left fans ready for next year.


September 8 marked day one of Moon River. Anticipation was high for main acts, The Head and the Heart and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Fans, dressed in an insurmountable number of Chacos, flooded in the main entrance to the music festival to claim spots and get a good grip on the layout for the weekend. The Iris and Poplar stage were set and ready to welcome Moon River’s attendees. With Family and Friends kicking off the festival at 12:30PM and The Head and the Heart closing out the night at 11:00PM, fans were prepped and excited for the ten straight hours of music. Having seen a few of the acts before, I was excited to see them in a festival setting and to catch new artists perform

Line-up: The Head and the Heart, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Trampled By Turtles, I’m With Her, Joseph, Penny & Sparrow, The Secret Sisters, Darlingside, Caamp, Liz Vice, Family & Friends

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Caamp is a folk duo that consists of Taylor Meier (guitar/ lead vocals) and Evan Westfall (banjo). The band’s sound is sculpted by Meier’s raspy heartfelt voice and Westfall’s signature banjo contribution. Having a discography perfect for a cozy winter day with songs like “Misty” or a kickback with your friends while listening to “So Cool”, Caamp had attendees swooning by the end of their set. Reminding me a bit of Mumford & Sons with fast tempoed guitar and banjo, and The Lumineers when it came to their stage presence, Caamp was right up my alley.



The Secret Sisters:

I went into The Secret Sisters set knowing not much more about them than they had been featured on the Hunger Games soundtrack in 2012 with their song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”.

Based in Alabama, the duo was formed by sisters Lydia and Laura Rogers. Sharing a love for country music, the two began performing together at a young age. Singing in church every week and constantly practicing, the two never thought of becoming a duo when they were young. It wasn’t until 2010 that they joined forces when Laura auditioned for a new singing group in Nashville that was to be curated by Andrew Brightman and Dave Cobb. She had auditioned alone and was soon invited back to sing once again. Representatives asked them to sing together and later that day, The Secret Sisters were formed.

The Rogers sisters expressed their excitement to play Moon River. Coming from Alabama, they were quite familiar with Chattanooga. They even sang their daunting and bold “Tennessee River Runs Low” in honor of them playing the state. Right off the bat The Secret Sisters got honest with Moon River. They declared they would play not one, but two, murder ballads in a row, and then continued to joke saying, “don’t get attached to them, because they all die”. Each sister had a powerhouse of a voice that had obvious country influence and deep soul. One of my favorites the ladies sang included, “luka”.

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Penny & Sparrow:

If you’re ever in need of a band that will have you crying in a short three minute period, don’t fear, Penny & Sparrow has got your back. Whether it is their raw talent that has you shedding a tear, or their beautifully crafted ballads, I can guarantee that you will end up falling in love with the indie folk group. Delicate and careful with their songwriting, Penny & Sparrow could easily have been one of the most underrated bands at Moon River. Heavily influenced by Bon Iver and Simon and Garfunkel, and coming from Austin, Texas, the duo was no stranger to the indie folk scene.

As it began to rain with giant thunderstorm clouds off in the distance, Andy Baxter, joked as he walked on stage and greeted the crowd saying “welcome to the aquatic part of this set”. Opening with the solemnly delicate “Gold”, there was a lull in the loud chatter among the audience. As Penny and Sparrow came towards the end of “Gold” the audience began to react. Just as this started to happen, Baxter exclaimed “wait the song is not over yet”. As if it was planned, lightning struck and Penny and Sparrow was told to get off stage. After receiving the message not much but five seconds later, Baxter said “just kidding, yes it is”.

Due to the lightning, the festival was delayed for 40 minutes and fans were told to take shelter under the pedestrian bridge. After the brief break, the storms cleared and Penny and Sparrow was given the OK to head back onstage. Baxter and Jahnke picked up right where they left off, finishing “Gold”.

As much of Penny and Sparrow music is slow and steady, they did not fail when it came to getting the crowd involved and increasing the energy. The duo covered Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”. With “The Boxer”, they had the audience play the part of the drums following the “Lie la lie’s”. Baxter acted as if he was holding a horse reign with one hand controlling the “drums” a.k.a., the whip noise crowd members created, and the “ahhs” he would occasionally add in for affect. Complex as it sounds, it had many audience members giggling at the attempt to follow his comedic hypothetical “instrument”. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the interaction go down.

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Breaking the duo trend on day one of Moon River festival, Joseph, a power trio consisting of sisters Allison, Meegan, and Natalie Closner rocked Coolidge Park with their breathtaking harmonies and intense talent. This was yet another band I was very excited for. I had seen them when they opened for James Bay at the Fillmore in Charlotte and remembered being blown away by their range and performance ability. Having watched their Tiny Desk performance too many times to count, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the Oregon sisters to take the stage.

As always, the trio blew me away. With nothing but one guitar and their voices, they had Moon River blown out of the park. After opening with “I Don’t Mind”, they shared with the crowd that they have been working on a new record and plan to head into the studio on October 1st. They played a few new songs in which they received a great reaction. One of the most powerful moments of Moon River was when Joseph invited Penny and Sparrow to come back out and sing with them. They sang Penny and Sparrow’s “Double Heart”. This was a moment I had only dreamed of getting to hear live. And I do have to admit, I did tear up a bit while they serenaded Coolidge Park.



I’m With Her:

I’m With Her performed in a semi-circle that further signified their closeness and chemistry. The ladies joined together to play their bluegrass country music for the festival goers. Multi instrumentalists, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, incorporated violin, ukulele, and guitar into their set. The band covered Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”. As daunting and daring of a task that this was, the girls killed it. Giving the song a more stripped down feel, it helped to engage the audience in a fun sing along. Picking along to “See You Around” and “Overland”, I’m With Her’s music made me want to take a roadtrip through the countryside. Having only released their first album this past February, I’m With Her is a band that has continued to flourish each day, gaining more and more of a fanbase and appraisal from other well known artists. Singing directly from the heart and soul, I’m With Her proved their professionalism as artists and brilliance as songwriters.

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Trampled By Turtles:

Trampled By Turtles was a band, that to be honest, I never got around to listening to before Moon River. However, I think this was a good thing. Sometimes, hearing a band for the first time live can be very rewarding. This is how I felt with Trampled By Turtles. I had no idea what to expect and I sure am glad I caught their set. After having them on repeat since Moon River I can not urge people more to go out to one of their shows. Trampled By Turtles took up the whole stage with six band members plus instruments. At this point, the pedestrian bridge was packed with outsiders looking in on the festival. Lead singer, Dave Simonett, took note of this and provided for one of the best quotes of Moon River. Simonett looked at the bridge, then at the crowd, and pronounced “You’re like the record stores” (referencing to those in the crowd)… “and the people on the bridge are like Spotify.” Coming from the south, there’s nothing better that feeds the soul than a little bluegrass and banjo. When the band sang “The Middle”, it was hard to not dance along. High energy and captivating, Trampled By Turtles left leaving fans excited for what was to come at Moon River.

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Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors:

I first saw Drew Holcomb when he joined needtobreathe as a part of the Tour De Compadres tour in 2015… and instantly fell in love. Having subscribed to his record club, attended five of his shows, and now his music festival, I would consider myself an avid fan. It is something about his gift in songwriting and well versed lyrics that have me hooked. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors played third to last on Saturday night. Appropriately opening with “Tennessee”, fans swayed their arms as the sun set over Coolidge Park. About four songs in, Holcomb invited his (very pregnant) wife, Ellie Holcomb, onstage to sing “Hung the Moon”, a song written by the couple. After finishing the song, Drew announced they were expecting their third child sometime the following week. However, this did not stop Mrs. Holcomb from dancing around and shaking her tambourine freely. Throughout the night she also sang “What Would I Do Without You” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Learning To Fly”.

Ellie Holcomb was not the only one invited onstage to sing with the Neighbors. Holcomb also brought out Penny and Sparrow to sing “Just Your Memory”, a song off his collaborative album, “Goodbye Road”, with Johnnyswim. However, Holcomb did not want any other bands to feel left out and later invited any artists backstage to join him. What I loved about Drew Holcomb and The Neighbor’s performance was that you could tell they were enjoying themselves. Holcomb was humble and grateful for all who attended the festival. Being one of the highlights of his career, he shared how cool it was to experience it with his closest family and friends. He shouted out his kids who were out in the crowd with Grandma and Grandpa and expressed how appreciative he was that they were able to experience the festival with him. Ending on “Here We Go”, there was a sense of satisfaction. Holcomb’s festival that had begun in Memphis, TN in 2014 with just under 3,500 people, had grown to a community based event gathering 10,000 people at a sold out weekend in Chattanooga, TN.

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The Head and the Heart:

The Head and the Heart closed out day one of Moon River. Beginning their set at 9:45PM on the poplar stage, the Seattle group, no stranger to festivals, was ready to take on Moon River. Originally forming back in 2009 in Seattle, WA, the indie folk band, consisting of Charity Rose Thielen, Jonathan Russell, and Chris Zasche.

With a ten song setlist, the band opened with “Ghosts”. Having never played Chattanooga, lead singer Jonathan Russell expressed his excitement to play the city. Russell told Moon River “We figured that our first show in Chattanooga would be a hot and sweaty club somewhere, but instead, it’s a hot, sweaty field”. Russell then joked, thanking the crowd for making his band look “legit”. The headlining show in at Moon River was also the first Russell’s father had ever seen. Russell was sporting a rockstar look on the night of Moon River, wearing a cut off Metallica tank top, black skinny jeans, and dark sunglasses. Joined by Charity Thielen’s soft indie voice, the two beared the distinctive sound that The Head and the Heart is ever so famous for. When singing along “Cats and Dogs”, fans chimed in clapping and barking. Two songs later, they began “Lost In My Mind”, the band’s most popular song with over 100 million streams on Spotify. A highlight of the night, of course, was The Head and The Heart ending on “Rivers and Roads”. Ironically sung right next to the Tennessee river, it couldn’t have been presented better. As fans walked away from night one, it was as if the last chorus of “Rivers and Roads” was echoing off into the night as fans continued to sing as they exited.

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Stay Tuned for Day 2!

See FULL gallery of the festival here. (404 images!)

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