Alongside his longtime musical pursuits and record label founder duties, professional side-hustler Drew Holcomb has also been running his very own Moon River Festival since 2014! With a standout line-up (The Avett Brothers, The Head and the Heart, Margo Price, Mavis Staples, and 18 others) slated for this year’s two-day festivities (September 8-9 in Chattanooga, TN), we chatted with Holcomb about Moon River’s beginnings, this year’s move from Memphis to Chattanooga, the refreshing wealth of female artists in the Moon River line-up, and much more!
NoiseTrade: First off, huge congrats on five years of Moon River Festival! What has the journey been like for you adding four-time festival founder to your ever-growing resume?
Drew Holcomb: Thank you. Like anything good, it has been a lot of hard work, a lot of team effort, but very satisfying. I love festivals and the way they bring people together and the way people hear new music at festivals. I first time I heard Bon Iver was at Outside Lands festival in 2008 and no one had ever heard of him. I love that about festivals.
NT: Judah & the Lion and The Dirty Guv’nahs both have the distinct honor of playing at the very first Moon River Festival back in 2014 and returning this year. What does it mean to you to have that sort of continuity of community woven into the festival’s framework?
Holcomb: I hope it means that I have built some good friendships over the years. Being a hard touring indie, you get to meet a lot of fellow travelers and both of those bands are full of friends who I deeply respect.
NT: Being in Memphis has always been a big part of the festival’s DNA. What drove this year’s geographical shift to Chattanooga?
Holcomb: I love Memphis, but we had outgrown the space we were in at Levitt Shell and were having a hard time making other spaces in the city work for what we wanted to accomplish. We started thinking outside the box and this park in Chattanooga came up. The city welcomed us with open arms. I love Tennessee and have lived in all three parts of the state – West, East, and Middle – and it felt like a good time to give a new city a swing.
NT: In recent years many festivals have been criticized for their overwhelming lack of female performers, an issue that this year’s Moon River lineup refreshingly doesn’t suffer from. Was it an intentional goal to have such equal representation (a move that many festival organizers have unconvincingly claimed is somehow difficult to achieve) or did you just luckily stumble into getting Mavis Staples, Margo Price, Joseph, I’m With Her, The Secret Sisters, Liz Vice and many more all on the same bill?
Holcomb: It was definitely intentional. I agree with many of my musical sisters that sometimes they don’t get the billing they deserve. I have been influenced in my music as much by women as by men with Carole King, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, and so many others. It makes sense to me that a festival should have a ton of females in the lineup because as a fan, that’s who I want to see. We are incredibly honored to have Mavis, Margo, Joseph, and so many others. I think we have put together one of the best lineups in the country this year and this list certainly is a huge part of that.
NT: Moon River started in 2014, moved from being a one-day event to a multi-day event in 2016, and this year it features 22 bands splitting two stages. What do you see as some of the next dreams or milestones that you have for the festival?
Holcomb: Well, right now I am just trying to enjoy all the dreams that are coming true with the festival this year: having the Avett Brothers, having the festival sold out way in advance, and playing alongside so many of my heroes and peers. I hope we can just keep the momentum. I have enough dream lineups to last for decades, so I don’t see why we cant keep it going and growing.
NT: Finally, looking back over the evolution of Moon River, do you have a snapshot moment or two in your memory that accurately encompasses what you initially dreamed of for the festival?
Holcomb: The first year during our last song, after hosting all day, I cried onstage with joy at how incredible it had all felt. To be reminded while everyone sang along to “Live Forever” that at the end of the day, festivals are about music and how people connect to music and let it in to their lives. The other one was during the second year, during Switchfoot’s set. It was Jon Foreman’s birthday and all 12 bands came onstage to sing “Happy Birthday” and eat a huge cake. That sort of camaraderie is another reason why I love festivals so much.