Located right on the bank of the Tennessee River sits Coolidge Park, one of Chattanooga’s most popular parks and the venue for the annual Moon River Festival, presented by Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors. With over 20 performances on two stages over two days, Moon River brings indie and folk fans from around the country to Chattanooga for a weekend of music, food, and activities for the whole family.
With the festival being headlined by Hozier and NEEDTOBREATHE (who came to the rescue when Caamp had to drop out last minute), anticipation was high, and people of all ages were eager to see what the weekend had in store.
Coolidge Park is one of Chattanooga’s most visited parks, and for good reason. From amazing views of the city skyline, to walkways right beside the river, to the multiple activities for the whole family, it is truly one of the best venues for Moon River to be held. With an estimated 10,000 tickets sold, the park was the perfect size to host.
With some people taking advantage of the grass and laying out blankets to watch sets, others opted to gather in crowds in an attempt to get a closer look at the bands while others found spots under the bridge and in between the trees. Despite it being absolutely packed for the majority of the weekend, people could still find places to hang out with low sensory areas available for everyone.
Photos by Hallie Oocumma
One of my personal favorite parts of the festival is how family friendly it is - you could see families of all sizes with kids of all ages all throughout the festival grounds participating in the multiple activities that Moon River offered. From kids yoga, to cooling off in the splash pad, to taking a ride on the carousel, there was something for everyone.
Another one of the unique things that they had was a spot right next to the food for the football lovers. With a large screen playing the game and tables all around where people could just hang out and get away from the music. And of course with the Tennessee Vols playing at the same time as the festival, many fans would casually make their way to check on the score in between sets, something I know a lot of fans loved and appreciated.
One of Moon River’s goals was to make it seem like a big family reunion, and I believe having a more family friendly environment only added to that aspect. For a lot of kids, this was their first time at a music festival, and you could just see the smiles on their faces the whole day and night. On the flip side, for those who were using this as a weekend getaway, it served as the perfect place to have a few drinks with friends and maybe even meet some new people along the way.
Of course, what is a music festival without food and drinks? You could find bars throughout the festival grounds serving a select choice of alcohol along with Red Bull and Liquid Death. Additionally, for the non-alcoholic drinks there were vendors serving everything from mocktails to kombucha to aqua frescas. The food choices were also top tier - from classic fair foods like funnel cakes and corndogs to Greek gyros and teriyaki chicken, there was something for everyone.
My personal favorites were the snow cone truck that offered a variety of flavors to help keep everyone cool as the sun beat down and the fair food section that offered funnel cakes that were the perfect snack as the sun started to go down.
The day started off bright and sunny, but about four bands into the first day, the clouds started to roll in and brought thunder and lightning with it. The festival was put on a hold, and everyone was asked to exit the park. But despite this not being how everyone wanted the day to go, spirits still seemed high as people made their way under bridges, into the local restaurants, or to their cars to wait out the storm. You could still hear everyone talking about who they were excited to see and their plans for the rest of the day. After an hour, the storm moved on and everyone was allowed to reenter the park.
One of, if not the biggest, appeal of the festival is the lineup. From up and coming artists to veterans, Moon River gives fans the opportunity to see some acts that they’ve loved for years or one’s that they may have never heard of. A performance a lot of people were excited for was from Goodbye Road, also known as Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors and Johnnyswim. This was a Moon River exclusive performance that brought the groups together to sing a mixture of songs from each of their discographies along with select collabs to bring it all together.
The first day was also filled with acts like Larry Fleet, Houndmouth, Marcus King, and Shane Smith & the Saints. As mentioned before, Caamp had to miss the festival this year, so their spot was taken over by NEEDTOBREATHE, which turned out to be the perfect group to end out day one of the festival. The following day was filled with some of my personal favorite acts in Larkin Poe, Noah Cyrus, and Judah & The Lion, all of which pulled in amazing crowds who sang along to every song and reminded everyone why live music is so special.
The final act of the festival went to Irish singer Hozier. You could feel everyone’s excitement even before he took the stage and fans gushed over him, and as the time got closer, fans even gathered on the walking bridge that looked over the park. I couldn’t imagine a better person to close out the 2023 Moon River festival.
As a first timer to the festival, it was truly an amazing experience filled with tons of memories that will last. I can't wait to see what's next for the festival as a whole, and how the Moon River team will continue to elevate the experience in the future. To keep up with all things Moon River (including information on next year's lineup) be sure to check out their website, https://www.moonriverfestival.com/, and follow them on social media @moonriverfestival.
All photos by Hozier, NEEDTOBREATHE, Goodbye Road, Larry Fleet, Houndmouth, Larkin Poe, Judah & The Lion, Aoife O'Donovan, Nickle Creek, and Wilder Woods are by Hallie Oocumma