Chattanooga, how do you define dedication? Is it the drive to beat the sun to his morning wake-up call and get in a training run, ride or swim despite a warm bed’s temptation to stay inside? Is it the countless hours working with dirt-encrusted fingernails and characterized by careful devotion to cultivating organic, sustainable food? What about the moments when day and night blend together while you are trying to locate that one word or phrase perfectly encapsulating the emotion in your lyrics?
Mike and Stormy McGauley, co-founders of Chattanooga Presents!, have a dedication to the Chattanooga community that resulted in what is quickly becoming the Southeast’s premier outdoor festival—RiverRocks. Celebrating its second year, the RiverRocks Festival is quickly becoming become a brand name, hosting more than 90 activities ranging from kayaking to hot-air balloon rides to wine tasting, and including competitive events drawing participants from other states and countries. At the heart of the festival is the entertainment, providing festivalgoers with a spectrum of talent, ranging from locally grown to world-renowned.
RiverRocks is not just another cotton-candy, popcorn, pony-ride festival that gets checked off the to-do list, like mowing the yard or cleaning out the gutters. This festival has its own to-do list. This festival is on a mission—and comes complete with its own mission statement: “Produce a fun-filled, family-friendly, environmentally conscious event that celebrates the incomparable natural resources of the region and the activities they inspire, the health benefits of an active outdoor lifestyle and Chattanooga’s commitment to environmental stewardship and land conservation.”
But what does it take to accomplish such an involved task? The McGauleys spent the better part of three years developing what they envisioned to be an “amazing community celebration.” Considering that last year’s RiverRocks brought 41,000 people—roughly a quarter of Chattanooga’s population—it is fair to say, “Mission accomplished”. However, with future goals including the number of participants reaching 100,000 by 2014, it seems the sky’s the limit. For this year’s festival, Mike McGauley hopes “to expand our offering of adventure sports activities, continue to showcase the city in a different way and create a sense of pride.”
The McGauleys began by removing barriers, allowing the festival to spill into the community in order to “shine a light on the remarkable story of a city that has reinvented itself.” There is much to celebrate, with 60,000 acres of protected land within a 15-mile radius bringing nature enthusiasts, hardcore outdoorsy types and casual observers many opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and canoeing, bird watching, running and climbing. RiverRocks has two very important agendas: to create awareness of the eight supporting land trusts and conservancies, and to engage kids in an active lifestyle at a younger age.
The gatekeepers of much of this protected land are the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, the Trust for Public Land, Lula Lake Land Trust, North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, Cumberland Trail, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, Friends of Moccasin Bend and Reflection Riding Arboretum & Botanical Garden. In an effort to preserve “our unique assemblage of natural resources” and maintain Chattanooga’s reputation as the Scenic City, RiverRocks plans to donate 50 cents of every dollar given by contributors and sponsorships to these trusts and conservancies. The bottom line is that without these entities, Chattanooga’s outdoor playground would be much smaller—or even nonexistent. Each one of the trusts and conservancies provides festival participants an opportunity to learn about the local environment and gain a better understanding of exactly what they do for Chattanoogans. And many of these events are designed with kids in mind, especially on Saturday, October 1:
• The Family Nature Games introduce children to the outdoors and encourage physical activity while getting in a little family time. Come out and play as a family and learn about nature’s unique capabilities.
• Running parallel to the Nature Games is “Ranger Rick’s Big Backyard Clean-up”, offering kids an opportunity to become “budding stewards of the earth” while learning about their local environment. Topping off the event are Earth-friendly games and the chance to meet live critters as well as a huggable Aquarium mascot.
• Did you know that the Eastern Screech Owl has two color morphs during its lifetime? The folks at the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center would like to offer participants an opportunity to learn about screech owls, including what they eat and how they hunt. A tour of the facility will be part of this event. Bring the kids and learn some new and cool things.
• Wrapping up the evening will be the Hot Air Balloon Glow at 7 p.m. Taking place at Coolidge Park and lining every bridge, filling every grassy patch and covering every ounce of concrete, this event will fill the sky filled “gigantic lanterns”. This is a wonderful opportunity to share a unique experience with your family as well as the Chattanooga community.
RiverRocks also showcases many events aimed at adult athletes, divided into three main categories: River, Mountain and Terrain. Ruth Thompson, events coordinator at Outdoor Chattanooga, notes, “Our City Parks and Recreation staff will assist with the RiverRocks Canoe and Kayak Races, the Chattanooga Head Race and Swim the Suck 10-Mile Open Water Swim.”
Try paddleboarding with Chattanooga’s very own SUP Paddleboard. Brenda Lowe of Survivor: Nicaragua 2010 and founder of Paddleboard Miami will be on site, revealing the SUP arts. Plenty of opportunities will be offered for every skill level, from beginner to expert.
Calling all climbers and cavers! The Mountain events provide many opportunities to get some hang time on the Coolidge Park Climbing Wall or for heading to Urban Rocks Gym for the BouldeRave, a “cosmic climbing party” benefiting The Trust for Public Land. Test your small-space capability while looking for fossils and cave inhabitants at the Wild Cave Adventure. The Triple Crown of Bouldering rearranged its dates in order to be part of RiverRocks. This internationally known event brings with it the prestige of many world-renowned climbers.
Dust off those running shoes, air up your bicycle tires, or break out the hiking boots. The Terrain events include all mountain- and road-biking activities, road and trail runs as well as 18 hikes. The Rock Creek Stumpjump 50K trail run lured 784 participants from 25 states last year, and has recently been chosen as the 2011 Tennessee State Ultra Championship. According to Rock Creek’s website, “[The] proceeds benefit Wild Trails, an organization dedicated to the use, expansion and promotion of trails in greater Chattanooga.” Not an ultra runner? There is an 11-mile option that is every bit as tough as its big brother.
Music plays a big part in RiverRocks this year. The 3 Sisters Music Festival will bring us a toe-tappin’, foot-stompin’ good time. 3 Sisters drew 10,000 to its stage last year, and organizers hope to woo even more music lovers with opening acts such as The Dismembered Tennesseans and Bluetastic Fangrass. There is something for everyone, ranging from the bluegrass of the Appalachians to a more contemporary, rock/pop style.
3 Sisters has a unique addition to the lineup this year with Solas, a Celtic band the Boston Herald deemed “the first truly great Irish band to arise from America.” The evolution of country, folk and bluegrass has progressed over the years into experimental combinations of different music genres, and Solas successfully mixes a traditional Irish sound with folk and country, adding a hint of blues and jazz.
In addition to the 3 Sisters, the Jayhawks, a Minneapolis-based band, bring it home during the final weekend with a blend of traditional rock, country and folk. Their latest album, Mockingbird Time, reflects the influence of musicians such as Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and The Louvin Brothers. Jayhawks founders Gary Louris and Mark Olson said in an interview with Rolling Stone in November 2010, “Our goal is to make the best Jayhawks album that’s ever been done.”
The Jayhawks’ story sounds oddly similar to many VH1 Behind the Music episodes. The band formed in 1985 and was classified as “alt country.” Louris and Olson had started in the music business in different bands, but upon meeting decided to join forces. Once together, they endured numerous band members coming and going and failed record deals until finally finding a spark of success in 1989 with the release of Blue Earth. They were then signed to American Records, where they produced what is considered their breakthrough album, Hollywood Town Hall in 1991. This album brought them many radio hits and a tour that resulted in the 1995 album, Tomorrow the Green Grass. Despite Louris and Olson’s split in 1995, the band maintained a loyal following. Managing to hang onto their creative, musical vibe, the guys decided to reunite, producing Mockingbird Time, of which Louris says, "This is a record for a true Jayhawks fan who loves Tomorrow The Green Grass.” The Jayhawks’ perseverance and dedication to their music is evident in the carefully selected song lyrics that return to their roots and come together with a Beatle-esque quality to fittingly tell stories of hardships, success and love. Presented by New Belgium Brewery, the Jayhawks play for free in Coolidge Park Saturday, October 8 at 8 p.m.
Shakespeare wrote, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” If that’s the case, RiverRocks will bring the whole world a heck of a lot closer in its 10-day run. Why not find out for yourself?
September 30 – October 9, 2011
Multiple times and locations.
For a complete events schedule, see four-page insert in this issue.