This years Wichita River Festival had many changes from previous years. Access to all areas of the festival was restricted to those who had purchased a festival button, on Saturday the festival hosted its first cardboard regatta, and the sidewalk outside Century II was transformed into a beach.
Despite all the changes, one thing remained constant: Jeff Kornelson.
Kornelson, of Wichita, defended his title as the festivals funnel-cake-eating champion for the third time on Saturday.
Shoving bit after bit of soggy, fried dough into his mouth, Kornelson was able to down 41/2 funnel cakes. But not without a little competition from professional eater Steve Larson of Wichita.
Larson, a zookeeper who participates in qualifying contests around the country for the Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest, was unable to keep up with Kornelson.
Its tough because its all bread, Larson said. If you eat anything long enough, it doesnt taste good anymore.
While Kornelson maintained his title as champion, festivalgoers kept a watchful eye on the weather, as did Mary Beth Jarvis, president of Wichita Festivals Inc., which puts on the festival. Jarvis said the past weeks good weather helped to boost attendance numbers, but she was hoping the weather would hold out for the final night.
The weather did not cooperate, however, as the festival was forced to delay the Go-Gos concert until 10 p.m. because of rain and lightning, and fireworks didnt begin until after 11 p.m. Those at the festival took cover in the Century II exhibition center until the severe weather passed.
Festivalgoers also had been asked to wear their sunglasses to the beach party to try to break the Guinness World Record for the most people wearing sunglasses at night. Brittany Clampitt, the interim marketing director for the festival, said the official record is 1,735. She said that, unofficially, an estimated 2,000 people were wearing their shades Saturday night at the festival. Organizers are awaiting confirmation from Guinness, however, on those numbers.
Jarvis is in her first year as director of the festival. She said festival officials have been listening to a lot of the patrons to see what changes theyve liked and not liked, especially with the entertainment.
Were learning a lot, Jarvis said. People have commented on its variety and relevance. Were going to keep listening and making this event better and better.
Richard Garcia, who has attended the festival in previous years with his family, said he liked the $5 button requirement.
It used to be elbow to elbow in here, Garcia said. People would just come here to walk around.
At least 280,000 people had attended the festival through Thursday, estimated Teri Mott, interim director of public relations for the festival. Attendance numbers for Friday and Saturday were not yet available.
We dedicated ourselves this festival to getting people to buy a button, Mott said. The button represents support for the festival, and if they buy in, they buy in to the spirit of the festival.
Overall, Jarvis was optimistic about the festivals outcome this year.
I think were exceeding expectations, Jarvis said, not only with the entertainment but with the (festival) environment, too.
Whatever changes the festival makes for next year, one thing can already be anticipated.
Thats three in a row, so you got to go for four, right? said funnel-cake-eating champ Kornelson.