Only once a year are Wichitans encouraged to party in the middle of the street, have a beer by the river and publicly stuff their faces with deep-fried goodness.
The 41st annual Wichita River Festival, a downtown party that features food, fireworks and frivolity, opens Friday night with the Sundown Parade through downtown Wichita, the Pops Concert with cannon blasts and a KC-135 flyover, and a jumbo fireworks show over the Arkansas River.
It’s only the second year the festival is being staged in June, a move officials made last year in an attempt to avoid end-of-school busy-ness and rainy mid-May weather. (Though at this point, a slight chance of rain is forecast for several days next week.)
Festivalgoers will find even more changes from last year’s festival, which was shifted closer to the party’s namesake, the Arkansas River.
The most notable one: The main food court will be set up in the middle of Douglas, in between Waco and Water. That section of street is closed and will remain closed until June 10. The food court will look different, too, since vendors have the choice this year of cooking in the traditional white tents or in their own mobile food units.
Although the festival still will offer a long list of free (with a button) music — including a country concert with Clay Walker on June 8 — this year’s big-name concerts will require a ticket for entry. Rick Springfield, the 1980s singer known for “Jessie’s Girl,” will perform along with “Eye of the Tiger” band Survivor on Saturday afternoon, and country stars Kellie Pickler and opening act David Nail will take the stage on Sunday. Both of those concerts, which will take place on the West Bank Concert Stage, require a $15 ticket and a $5 River Festival button for admission.
The WaterWalk Pavilion will be back, too, and will feature nightly concerts and catered food designed for a professional after-work crowd. It runs nightly Saturday through June 9. So will the popular zipline, which people stood in line to ride across the river last year. This year will have two lines for double the zipping fun.
Several other festival favorites aren’t changing at all.
The Cessna Kids Corner will be moved back to A. Price Woodard Park from its spot last year near Exploration Place. It will again include inflatables and carnival rides in the parking lot west of Century II.
And the Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Social, which offers attendees massive bowls of free ice cream, will be back but will happen at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Janet Wright, the festival’s president and chief executive, says that this year’s festival should offer something for everyone — and that’s not its only selling point.
“It’s going to be great people-watching,” she said.