What Riverbend 2019 changes mean for the Bessie Smith Strut, Faith & Family Night

MLK Blvd. (Image: WTVC)

The Bessie Smith Strut has been an associated staple of Riverbend for decades. Now that the festival is changing, so is the strut.

Organizers announced Friday there will not be a strut this year. A fall street festival will take its place.

Businesses on ML King Blvd. have mixed reactions to the change. Some were excited for the new opportunity. Others were upset that a piece of history, as well as a piece of their profits, won't be there this summer.

The Chattanooga Big 9 Roots Festival is set for October. The new fall fest will essentially replace the Bessie Smith Strut. And not everyone is happy about it.

"Disrespected. disrespected, but that's just the way the ball bounces I guess,” said Victor Williams, Co-Owner of Memo’s Grill.

William's family has owned Memo's Grill on MLK for about 50 years. Yesterday, he found out one of his favorite summer activities, and a big businesses booster, won't happen this year.

"It's disappointing. It’s been a tradition in the area for 20 years or more and it’s a time when we get to see old friends and old class mates, old customers," said Williams.

Some newer MLK Blvd. additions, like Christian Beairsto, with Odd Story Brewing Co, say they're glad the strut is gaining independence from Riverbend.

“I know it creates traffic. People come out of everywhere to go. So, I think having the Bessie Smith Hall doing their own thing might be an opportunity to just make it an MLK engagement versus a whole Riverbend ordeal," said Beairsto.

But some others didn't mind the traffic.

"It's the busiest day," said Lauren Turner, Owner of 234 St. Francis.

Turner’s shop has only been on the block for one year. She says the strut helped business boom, but has faith the new festival will do the same.

“I'm going to be super optimistic about the first one. And I think that it’s going to be better than it was then all of the years beforehand, and then if there’s opportunities change it for the second and oncoming years they can," said Turner.

According to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, The Chattanooga Big 9 Roots Festival will be a free event. The center is partnering with the Mary Walker foundation to put on the festival.


Another big change coming to Riverbend is the removal of Faith and Family Night.

On Friday, Jfest announced it will be taking its place.

You can read the full statement below:

"With the elimination of Riverbend’s Faith and Family Night, Jfest is excited to fill the void.

Partners for Christian Media previously announced that Jfest 2019 is going to look much different on Saturday, May 18.

For the first time in 20 years Jfest is moving to the banks of the TN River at the TN Riverpark on Amnicola which enables Chattanooga to be the home of the largest Christian Music event in a 100 mile radus. The biggest Jfest line up ever was also announced including:

Grammy Award winning Hip Hop Artist Lecrae, Matthew West, Grammy Award winner Tauren Wells, Building 429, Ryan Stevenson, The Young Escape, and Riley Clemmons.

The Biggest Fireworks in Jfest history and plenty of Free Parking, ensures that Jfest continues to be the best event for families and people of faith.

“It’s amazing how God works everything out,” says Festival director Ted Gocke. “Last May, when finishing up the final Jfest planning, we knew it was time to refresh and recharge our festival. Our crowds had begun to outgrow our current home of Camp Jordan, and we were excited to take Jfest to the next level. We approached the Hamilton County Parks Dept and Chattanooga State and were welcomed with enthusiasm. The TN Riverpark is the perfect festival venue and we are proud to now call it the Home of Jfest.”

The tickets for Jfest go on sale Thursday, Feb 7th at"