The Wichita River Festival fireworks will fly again this year – but only on opening night.
The traditional closing-night fireworks will be replaced this year with an evening of entertainment on Kennedy Plaza featuring a laser-light show and performances by the MarchFourth Marching Band and a concert by Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg.
“The Capitol Federal fireworks on opening night are classic, and everyone loves them and counts on them,” Mary Beth Jarvis, the president and CEO of Wichita Festivals Inc., said Tuesday. “We just thought it might be time to innovate and see if Wichita would be receptive to it. We’re always trying to give folks something they don’t even know they want yet.”
The change is one of several coming for the annual festival, which opens May 30 and runs through June 7 in the areas around Century II and the WaterWalk. Organizers also are moving the children’s activities from A. Price Woodard Park to the WaterWalk area, are introducing an aviation-themed “festival within a festival” and are putting up a 90-foot Ferris wheel that will be visible from Kellogg.
There’s no Block Party this year and no Criterium Bike Race, but tennis activities are back on the schedule at the Ralph Wulz Riverside Tennis Center, and the hot air balloons will again be on display and will be launched during the festival’s opening weekend.
Buttons that serve as admission to the festival, which are $5 for adults and $3 for ages 6-12, go on sale Friday. The button launch will be celebrated with an event from 4 to 6 p.m. at the QuikTrip at 750 S. Broadway that will include giveaways and activities. Buttons also will be on sale at area QuikTrip and Dillons stores and at AAA locations.
The new laser-light show – scheduled for 10 p.m. on June 7 – will feature a combination of laser and light projection plus ground-level pyrotechnics, Jarvis said. It will be visible from Kennedy Plaza but not from the riverbanks surrounding the area.
The opening night of the festival will include the Sundown Parade, the Koch Industries Twilight Pops Concert and the fireworks show, which Jarvis said will be “substantial.”
The festival began offering opening-night fireworks in addition to the traditional finale show in 2004.
In 2011, the festival moved the Koch Twilight Pops Concert, the traditional precursor to the fireworks finale, to opening night and moved the big fireworks show along with it. A smaller show still was offered on the closing night.
The changes happened the same same year that the festival moved the dates of the event from early May to early June. That year, the Koch-sponsored pops concert on closing night would have collided with the Koch Foundation’s Symphony in the Flint Hills, so festival organizers moved it, and the concert and larger fireworks show have remained opening-night events ever since.
Among other significant changes to the festival:
• Kids Corner relocation: Kids Corner – which features inflatables, rides and activities for children and families – is moving to the WaterWalk area and will be set up from just west of Main Street to the lawn south of the Hyatt. It also will feature several new events, including hands-on activities focused on science, technology, engineering and math. The area will have its own food court and will be anchored by a 90-foot Ferris wheel that will offer $3 rides, $1 of which will go to St. Francis Community Services for foster care programs. (That’s not to be confused with the 40-foot Ferris wheel that is not affiliated with the festival but pops up at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium every year during festival time.)
The change in location, Jarvis said, will make kids’ activities and nearby parking easier to access for stroller-toting parents.
A. Price Woodward Park, which is on the riverbanks just west of Century II, has been home to the Kids Corner for the past several years. This year, it will become a happy hour zone called “Ackerman’s Backyard” and will feature a beer garden, wine tasting, live music, a cigar tent and other adult-centric events nightly.
• A Salute to Aviation: The first Sunday of the festival will feature a small “aviation festival within a festival,” Jarvis said. It will include static aircraft displays set up on Main Street, Wichita aviation displays inside Century II and flyovers throughout the day. Visitors also can try out aircraft simulators and participate in several aviation-centered activities, including a Rosie the Riveter lookalike contest.
For a complete schedule of events, visit wichitariverfest.com.