By Joe Bailey, Staff Writer–
Riverfront Nights is a Chattanooga-based summer concert series held each Saturday night on Ross’s Landing that recently concluded its 2019 run.
The series lasted from July 20 through Aug. 24 and hosted a variety of bands throughout the summer. Each Saturday, groups of musicians, all with their own unique story and message, took to the stage and performed from 6:30pm to about 10 p.m.
As stated on their website, “Riverfront Nights focuses on local people and institutions who promote healthy lifestyles, sustainable development/business practices and, of course, an intense love of outdoor, adrenaline producing recreation.”
On the last night of the 2019 summer series, Riverfront Nights, which is another creation by the people behind Riverbend, presented two bands. The opening act, Freedom Sings USA, is an ever-evolving group comprised of military veterans who write songs to honor those who served in the United States military. Next, the night’s headliner, Brownout, showed off their unique brand of latin funk.
The night was marked by numerous reminders of the United States’ military history. A World-War-II-era battleship in town named the USS LST 325 floated on the river behind the stage while military veterans recounted their struggles and accomplishments following their service. The ship, which was present during D-Day near the beaches of Normandy in 1944, was making its first visit to Chattanooga since 2014.
LST 325 Deck Officer John Talent said that the ship has a full crew and functions as it did during the war. Out of the 1051 LSTs manufactured, this is the only one left in the condition it was in during the war.
Despite the thematic consistency of military veterans performing in front of a historic military ship, Talent admitted, “It’s coincidental. We set our schedule about a year in advance for our cruise, and we made Chattanooga our first stop.”
Back on stage, veterans told their stories through a variety of musical genres ranging from country to heavy metal and rap. Despite the musical variety, the lyrics were steadfast in their purpose.
One of the final songs performed was written by Vietnam veteran Frederick McDade. Before being drafted, McDade was a professional baseball player. He had lost a leg and been blind since his twenties, but he pursued an education at Dalton State and eventually UTC after leaving the military.
Like the other performers, McDade told his story through his music. Don Goodman, lead songwriter of the group, repeated a motto for the crowd when introducing new performers. Goodman said, “When a story becomes a song, freedom sings USA.” The phrase served as a reminder of what the songs represented: real stories from real soldiers.
Following their show was the Austin-based group Brownout, a band of nine who goes back 15 years. Their groovy blend of jazz, funk and latin music got the crowd moving and even had some moving closer to the stage.
Although this night marked the end of its 2019 summer run, Riverfront Nights will return next summer.