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Picture kids running across grassy fields, spinning to music, and squealing in spray fountains. A picnic at the park? Nope. It’s the family-friendly Moon River Music Festival in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
As a parent, I love outdoor music festivals as a way to see my favorite bands and share them with my kids. While attending concerts often means expensive date nights or getting home late on a school night, music festivals offer hours of fun for the whole family, all on a convenient weekend. Better yet, some festivals cater to families with kids, adding extra features to welcome young guests. After being invited to check out the Moon River Festival in downtown Chattanooga this year, we discovered that the event is definitely a family-friendly affair.
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What Is Moon River?
Moon River Festival is a two-day festival started by musician Drew Holcomb, with a lineup that is often heavy on Americana and blues. While the event began in Memphis, it has since found a home in Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park along the beautiful Tennessee River.
I love Chattanooga, and our family had already planned a trip to the city to see the famous Tennessee Aquarium. So when Moon River Festival invited our family to check out the event and see whether it was good for families with kids, we dove into a fun weekend of activities.
Free Admission for Kids
Having kids is EXPENSIVE, right? And while we want to experience the world with them, buying concert tickets for an entire family can be cost-prohibitive. Moon River Festival takes care of that by offering free admission to kids ages 10 and younger. Each adult with a ticket to the festival can bring two kids for free! This means you get to hear your favorite bands *and* let your kids join the fun without paying any extra. And when you buy your festival tickets, know you’re putting some good into the world – a portion of each ticket goes to support St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and Friends of Outdoor Chattanooga.
How much can little kids enjoy a festival? Based on the preschooler dance parties I saw during sets by Greensky Bluegrass and festival founder Drew Holcomb, A LOT! Many families arrived early. They claimed a good spot by setting up a tarp or a blanket, creating a headquarters for the rest of the day. Braving the festival with an infant? You can even buy a Moon River onesie to commemorate baby’s first music fest.
A Welcoming Atmosphere
Moon River works hard to be a family-friendly event and takes extra steps to keep its youngest visitors safe and happy. I recommend families use the Tag-A-Kid program: when you first walk into the festival, head over to the Guest Services tent and fill out a wristband for each kid so they’ll have your information in case you get separated. And while you are there, grab some earplugs to protect little ears from loud music.
Families with young kids were everywhere at the festival. I saw kids on parents’ shoulders at the front of the crowd, kids wearing ear protectors as they rocked out to a band, kids napping in strollers, and kids dancing along to the music. While we definitely saw tons of college students and twentysomethings enjoying the festival, families with children seemed to feel right at home too.
Activities for Kids
I love music festivals that have kids’ areas. Moon River Festival offers “The Treehouse,” with activity booths provided by local organizations. These areas were crowded with happy children during the daytime, although the booths packed up for the day as the evening’s headliners were starting. My kids especially loved the animal trivia game run by the Tennessee Aquarium, which included some fun prizes, as well as the dry ice art experiments hosted by the Chattanooga Public Library. But the most popular booth was TN Art Yard, which offered a sensory rice table and make-your-own slime!
A few activities and performers were scheduled in The Treehouse area, but I would have loved to see even more musicians on the kids’ stage (a much-anticipated performance by Ellie Holcomb got rained out). We happened to wander over to the Treehouse a few minutes before the start of a kids’ yoga class from Thrive Yoga. We were delighted to discover that the yoga instructor was also an instructor for Inversions Circus Arts. She brought out juggling balls and hula hoops for all the kids to enjoy, and trying those was probably my kids’ favorite part of the entire festival!
Before heading to Moon River Festival or any music festival with your kiddos, make a playlist of songs so they can become familiar with any artists they don’t know. We’ve found that listening to artists ahead of time helps our boys enjoy the festival more than when they don’t know anything about the musicians we’re seeing. Bonus: making a playlist of all the artists – not just your favorites – means you might find an awesome band to add to your music library. (And then you’ll know ahead of time if there’s a particular band or song with lyrics that are a little too salty for first graders.)
How To Pack Your Bag
Moon River is SERIOUS about their bag policy. (That’s part of making it a safe experience for everybody.) Read up ahead of time on what types of bags are allowed and what can be brought into the park (hint: no food or drink at all). Here’s what I recommend you pack:
- Refillable water bottle to use at water stations
- Extra phone battery
- Blanket to sit on
- Ear protectors
- Wet wipes (the only bathrooms are porta-potties)
Make a Severe Weather Plan
I have now taken my kids to two different music festivals where heavy rains canceled the shows and created fields that were a big, muddy mess. When severe weather strikes, festival organizers have to clear all the guests out of the event, so know ahead of time where you will go.
In the case of Moon River Festival, you’ll want to head to a nearby business to wait out the weather. (I recommend Clumpies Ice Cream Co.) Take everything with you; don’t leave blankets or water bottles because you may not be able to come back for them later. Be sure you are subscribed to receive festival text messages so you get the latest updates about when the gates will reopen.
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When You Go
The Moon River Festival takes place in gorgeous Coolidge Park on the banks of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga is one of my favorite towns to visit with kids thanks to all the attractions within easy walking distance. Plan to arrive early at the festival so your kiddos can adjust to the sounds and the space before the crowds arrive.
Where to Eat
Food at the festival is expensive, so plan to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant before you arrive. (I recommend Aretha Frankenstein’s, Ruby Sunshine, or Opa.) Once you are at the festival, grab a snack to share in the afternoon, like fried Oreos and lemonade. And for dinner, hit the festival’s food vendors to find gyros, tacos, Chinese food, and more. Don’t worry, you’ll also find kid-friendly foods like chicken tenders, pizza, and grilled cheese.
Where to Stay
There are approximately one billion hotels in downtown Chattanooga along with two billion Airbnbs. Okay, maybe not that many, but there are a ton of rooms available. And almost all of them will be booked on the weekend of the festival, so make your reservations early.
I like the Hilton Doubletree because of its close proximity to the festival as well as the Tennessee Aquarium and the Creative Discovery Museum (also: cookies! Yum.). If you want to save a bit of money and are willing to walk farther, check out the retro style of Hotel Bo, which is further into downtown. For a luxury experience, check out the Edwin Hotel and its beautiful views of the river.
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With free admission for kids under 10 and plenty of kid-friendly activities, Chattanooga’s Moon River Festival is fun for the whole family.
If you fly into the Chattanooga airport, you’ll need to bounce through Dallas, Chicago, Charlotte, or Atlanta on one of the major airlines. Prefer a direct flight? Fly from L.A. into Nashville or Atlanta. Both airports are about two hours away by car and offer nonstop flights on multiple airlines.
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Another excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia!
There are no parking passes available for the festival, and there is no parking near Coolidge Park. If you bring a car, you’ll need to leave your car in your hotel’s lot or park in one of the garages on the south side of the river near the aquarium. You can then walk across the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge to go right into the festival. There’s also a rideshare drop-off just outside the festival entrance.
Ready to have a blast with a Moon River weekend for the whole family? Sign up on their mailing list at the Moon River Festival website to be the first to hear about next year’s lineup, ticket pre-sales, and the best prices on general admission and VIP tickets for 2023.
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