Eye patches, iron hooks, sword duels and a whole lot of "Aaarrgh" marked the opening of the Wichita River Festival on Friday when the Sundown Parade was taken over by bands of pirates.
The theme of this year's festival —"River Me Timbers" _ appeared to have offered extra doses of inspiration this year to its pirate-playing participants.
Mayor Carl Brewer cheesed and waved along Douglas, a dramatic black pirate hat perched on his head. Swing-dancing pirates, cheerleading pirates and ice-cream-hawking pirates followed closely behind. Festival officials estimated the crowd at 45,000.
At one point, Hiland Dairy Foods' large and elaborate pirate ship float, manned (and womaned) by dramatically dressed shipmates, stopped in front of the parade judges' booth on Douglas.
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A shirtless, tattooed pirate and a Jack Sparrow look-alike scrambled down from the float and grabbed Admiral Windwagon Smith, Devin Hansen.
Several Wagonmasters quickly swooped in, shooting cap guns into the air. As startled toddlers grabbed their ears, the Western-clad Wagonmasters freed the Admiral from his captors.
Not all parade participants were pirates, though.
Several school marching bands came dressed in their half-time best. One — the Goddard High marching band — joyously played a version of Alice Cooper's "School's Out."
Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, waved from the back of a black Thunderbird convertible, trying to keep his hair under control in the wind tunnel that was Douglas and Main.
And the Sedgwick County commissioners walked the parade route dressed as in business casual khakis and blue works shirts.
Angie Plummer brought her mom and three sons, age 10, 9 and 3, from Mulvane for the parade — a family tradition since she was a little girl.
The boys loved the pirate touches, and mom liked that the participants had all gotten into the theme.
"I'm a band person, and the boys are into the firefighter stuff," she said. "The parade is just a tradition. We do it every single year, and I hope they'll do it when they get older."
When the parade ended, spectators packed up their portable chairs and walked en masse to the West Bank Stage, where classic rock band Cheap Trick was scheduled to perform in place of the original act, Poison frontman Bret Michaels, who canceled at the last minute after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
Concertgoers, who paid $10 a head to enter the concert area, started filling in at the front of the stage before the parade began.
Jamie Barlow and a few family members sat in lawn chairs enjoying beers for an hour and a half before the 8:30 p.m. show was scheduled to start.
Barlow — a casual Cheap Trick fan who admitted to recognizing only a couple of the band's hits — said he has fond memories of the River Festival of his childhood, when events were simple and inexpensive.
"Obviously, though, the $10 cover did not deter me because I'm sitting here," he said.
The concert drew between 4,000 and 5,000 people, festival officials said.
The nine-day festival continues today with the popular River Run, the Art and Book Fair, and a West Bank Stage country concert by Jake Owen, which also will require a $10 gate admission.
Now you know
SUNDOWN parade award winners
Admiral's Trophy: Kansas Museum of Military History
Jack Galvin Award: Hiland Dairy
Best Use of Theme: Wichita Area Technical College
Best Performance by a Band: Holy Cross German Band, Holy Cross Church
Best School Band: Curtis Middle School