Riverfest fans are going to have to pace themselves after Friday’s cram-packed opening night, which included more fun than you could shake a deep-fried delicacy on a stick at – and this year’s only fireworks show.
The annual event, which runs through June 7 in downtown Wichita, drew an estimated crowd of 75,000 people downtown for opening-night festivities, which included the Sundown Parade, the Koch Twilight Pops Concert and a giant, dramatic fireworks display over the Arkansas River.
Those who missed Friday’s fireworks show will have to wait until next year for another Riverfest chance. For the first time in 10 years, this year’s festival will offer only one. The finale on June 7 will feature a laser light show instead.
On Friday night, some people watching the fireworks said they’d prefer the traditional fireworks show to a laser one.
“I’m not as big on something like the laser light show,” said Cathy Moore-Jansen. Her husband, Peer, agreed. “But I’ve always thought that the River Festival fireworks were better than the fourth of July fireworks,” Moore-Jansen said.
Friday night also included the introduction of the expanded and relocated Cox Kids Corner, which in the past has filled A. Price Woodward Park with inflatables, carnival rides, face painting and other family-friendly activities.
Barefoot brothers Sabestian and Silas Hoach – ages 8 and 6, respectively – had few words to say about the Kids Corner.
“Flippin’ awesome,” Sabestian said.
“Hallelujah,” Silas said.
Crowds got a first look at the event’s new location at the WaterWalk, and they paid $3 for rides on a new, flashing, 90-foot Ferris wheel that gave them views of all the festivities below.
Williams Morris, 4, got his first ride on a Ferris wheel Friday night, while his mother, Jessica, watched from below.
“He’s had a really fun time,” Jessica said. “They’ve got everything spaced out really nicely.”
Mary Beth Jarvis, the festival’s president and CEO, was dressed up and walking through the crowd on Friday night, gathering input about the festival and its changes.
She raved about the weather – sunny with a cool breeze and no rain clouds in site – and she said she was getting the best feedback about the new Kids Corner.
“Things are off to a very festive start,” she said. “Folks are loving the variety of spaces. And they’re loving the kid and family stuff at the WaterWalk. It’s easy to get to and they like the wide open spaces.”
Downtown started filling up just after 5 p.m. with people hoping to grab a funnel cake or roasted ear of corn before the parade. While some feasted at the food courts, others set their lawn chairs out along Main, Douglas and Waco streets, determined to get the best spots for parade viewing.
But people who’d staked out the north side of Douglas got a surprise when the parade emcee encouraged them, just before the parade started, to move closer. A mad dash of people toting lawn chairs raced to the center of Douglas, leaving a compact, single lane for the parade procession.
The parade included the usual waving city dignitaries, Shriners driving mini cars, and Spirit AeroSystems employees dragging a giant airplane balloon.
It also included the parade’s first ever gay-pride float, which organizers of Liberty Press put together and which included a drag queen popping out of a birthday cake. Crowds seemed to particularly love an artistic, fabric fish that floated down Douglas, constructed by artist duo Hallie Linnebur and Meghan Miller. And Westar Energy’s entry in the parade was a trailer fitted with the upper halves of three electric poles, each strapped with a real-life Wichita lineman.
Among those with a front-row seat were Linda and Greg Aylward and their son Sean.
The three said they’ve come to the parade every year for 15 years and always try to grab the same spot on Douglas.
“We love the music, and we love the people watching,” Linda Aylward said. “That’s our favorite thing.”
The festival continues Saturday with the River Run in the morning, an attempt at a record-setting bike train starting at WaterWalk Pavilion at 1 p.m., and the country concert by star Jerrod Niemann at 8:30 p.m. on Kennedy Plaza.
For complete details and schedules, see Kansas.com/riverfest.