Drew Holcomb knows what it's like to play one of those early-in-the-day festival slots. The crowds can be light, the summertime sun can be scorching -- but the payoff can really be worth it.

"That's how I found a lot of fans over the years, was being that artist on the bill that's, like, first on and hoping that people come early," says Holcomb, solo artist-turned-frontman of Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors. "And when they do, it's pretty magical to feel discovered as an artist."

It's no wonder, then, that the singer-songwriter is particularly proud of the entire lineup for the 2021 Moon River Music Festival, which he founded in 2014. Returning to downtown Chattanooga, Tenn., after a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sept. 11-12 event features headliners Wilco and Lord Huron, but also a can't-miss set of undercard acts: Yola, Amythyst Kiah, Molly Tuttle, American Aquarium and Allison Russell, to name a few.

"I'm particularly proud of that," Holcomb admits. "I mean, I'm proud of the whole lineup, but that part of it as well -- some really, really good bands, a lot of really good people."

He's proud of the lineup, too, for its relative gender parity and diversity. Holcomb and his partners weren't able to create that equality between Moon River 2021's headliners -- in fact, he admits that planning this year's festival was particularly tough because of shifting schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the push for artists to tour now that things are opening back up -- so they were "extra intentional" about selecting the rest of the acts on the bill.

"It's important to me, it's important to my partners. That said, it's sometimes difficult ...," Holcomb says. "But I've been dreaming of having Wilco play this festival since I first came up with the whole thing seven years ago, and so to have them play is such a dream come true.

"I do think, in general, that ... you just don't see as many all-male bills anymore. That's a great thing; that's how it should be," he adds. "There's so many amazing female artists, and we're honored that so many of them said yes."

Frankly, Holcomb is just thrilled to be able to put Moon River on in 2021 at all, after watching the pandemic take down both his tour plans and the festival in 2020. As of November, another cancellation seemed likely, he admits; then, as the vaccine rollout began and artists began announcing tours for later in 2021, the chances of being able to hold the fest grew.

"There was a lot of writing on the walls that we were going to be able to -- pending the current trends continuing the way they are -- we'll be able to do this, and do it sort of normally," says Holcomb, adding that Moon River organizers will follow whatever public health guidelines regarding masking, social distancing and other COVID-19-related best practices are in place come September.

"It does feel like there's sort of a lot riding on my shoulders," says Holcomb, who partners with AC Entertainment for the event, "but, in fact, it's actually a really great group of people. I do not shoulder the burden alone."

Two-day VIP and GA tickets for the 2021 Moon River Music Festival are on sale now, and a portion of each ticket sold benefits Outdoor Chattanooga and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Moon River has partnered with St. Jude since the festival's days in Memphis -- Holcomb's hometown -- in 2014-2017.

Moon River's performances take place across two stages, but sets do not overlap with each other, to give festivalgoers the opportunity to see every minute of each day's live music, if they so desire. Holcomb says he'll be right there with them, running back and forth between stages to watch everybody's sets -- and hopefully jumping onstage to play with some of them, too.

"With having 18 months of not being able to see music," he reflects, "I just can't wait."

LOOK: Photos From Moon River Music Festival 2019