Wichita Riverfest 2014: An insider’s guide

06/01/2014 6:55 AM

08/06/2014 11:39 AM

Don’t head out to Riverfest this weekend without doing your homework.

Otherwise, you might end up at A. Price Woodard Park looking for a bouncy house for the kids only to find an adult-friendly happy hour in full swing. Or you might set your blanket out on the riverbanks on the festival’s closing night to wait for the finale fireworks to fly. That wait will be eternal.

The nine-day party’s return will include nearly all the events its fans have come to expect, including the Sundown parade, lots of big-name concerts and a smorgasbord of deep fried foods on a stick.

But events will be in different places and at different times. And some new events and attractions have been added that the uninformed could miss if they’re not prepared.

This guide will help.

Those who read it will find out, for example, that this weekend’s events include most of the festival’s marquee events, starting with Friday’s Sundown Parade, Koch Twilight pops concert and deluxe fireworks show – the only festival fireworks show that will happen this year. Organizers have decided to forgo finale fireworks in favor of a closing-night laser light show with ground-level pyrotechnics visible from Kennedy Plaza.

Students of the guide will also learn that Cox Kids Corner, which traditionally takes over A. Price Woodard Park, this year will be spread out into a larger area at the WaterWalk and anchored with a giant, lighted Ferris wheel, inflatables, kiddie rides, its own food court and make-it-and-take-it educational and art projects. The former Kids Corner location will be filled with a new attraction called Ackerman’s Backyard, which is designed for but not limited to adult attendees. It will feature a beer garden, live music and food vendors from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. weeknights and all day on weekends.

They’ll also find out which night they can see which big-name concert and learn that the only admission fee is the festival’s $5 button ($3 for kids) to see country star Jerrod Niemann on Saturday, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Sunday, Tamela Mann on Monday, Grandmaster Flash on Wednesday, The Romantics on June 6 and Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg with Black Joe Lewis on closing night, June 7.

They’ll get the details on the addition of the new aviation-themed “festival within a festival” on Sunday, which will include static aircraft displays set up on Main Street, Wichita aviation displays inside Century II and flyovers throughout the day as well as aircraft simulators, a wing eating contest and a Rosie the Riveter lookalike contest.

They’ll find out they shouldn’t plan to attend the Block Party – because there won’t be one this year – but that they’ll find other favorite events in the traditional places on the traditional days, including the River Run on Saturday, the ice cream social on Wednesday and the Cajun Food Fest on Thursday.

And they’ll know better than to try to get into the festival without the required button because, as of last year, it really is required. The festival zone is gated off, and attendees won’t be able to so much as taste a Pronto Pup at the main food court on Century II Drive without one.

Mary Beth Jarvis, the festival’s president and CEO, said she hopes that’s a lesson that was well learned at last year’s event, during which button sales shot up by 38 percent, attendance rose from 300,000 to 360,000, and the festival finished in the black for the first time in four years.

“I think as a whole, we learned about how we can continue to build programming that folks feel engaged in and know that they’re paying $5 to get it because they value what’s inside, whether it’s a concert or because it’s their nephew’s garage band on the floating stage,” she said.

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