With the help of a generous in-kind contribution from Mother Nature, the 45th Wichita Riverfest outdid itself in drawing diverse musical acts and huge and happy crowds.
That the 2016 event’s nine days were rain-free was part of its success, and a nice relief after Wichita’s 7 inches of precipitation in May.
But after all these years, and a recent rough patch financially, Riverfest also seems to have hit upon the right mix of talented performers, valued traditions and do-it-yourself fun.
The Wichita Festivals organization has taken some seemingly big risks in the past few years – moving Riverfest from May into June as of 2011, fencing off the main festival area and allowing in only button buyers as of 2013, and doubling the button price to $10 last year.
But rather than discourage attendance, the changes have been part of making the events more secure and the mood more relaxed. Arrests have dwindled from 156 in 2013 to just five in 2016, with most festivalgoers keeping their cool even when temperatures get as hot as they did at times this year.
Officials estimated Monday that the 2016 attendees totaled 455,000, surpassing last year’s 410,000 and 2014’s 380,000, and reported very large concert crowds for the Roots (35,000), singer Elle King (25,000) and the Violent Femmes (20,000). Saturday’s closing-night throng got an unexpected thrill when the Roots were introduced by comedian Dave Chappelle, in town to perform at the Orpheum Theatre.
This Riverfest also did its civic duty, by building a Habitat for Humanity house for a refugee family on site and mobilizing great tech minds in a hackathon.
Then there was the unforgettable sight of Julie Dombo finishing her 26th straight River Run, despite having lost her hands and feet in the aftermath of a shooting last summer.
Though it can get silly at times, Riverfest helps fortify Wichita as a community and a regional tourism destination. Thanks are due the 6,500 volunteers and 250 sponsoring businesses and groups that contributed to the 2016 Riverfest’s success. Miss it? Save these dates: June 2-10, 2017.