River Festival

Lots of concerts, all free with a $5 button

Music lovers at this year’s Wichita River Festival will find that many things have changed from previous years.

The main one is that concerts — and there are a lot of them — will be free to watch for those in possession of a $5 Wichita River Festival button (or $3 for kids).

No extra gate admission will be charged to see shows. Last year, festivalgoers had to pay $15 extra to see big-name performers, and they didn’t like it.

Complaints about extra gate admission were among the chief grumblings the new River Festival leaders heard when they began gathering feedback late last year.

The marquee acts the festival has recruited — such as The Go Go’s, Montgomery Gentry, Big Head Todd and The Monsters, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Chris Mann and more — also will perform in a different place.

For the past several years, the big concerts have been performed on a temporary stage set up in the West Bank area.

But new festival organizers wanted to get the music back into the festival’s main area, so almost all the big concerts will be in Kennedy Plaza, the area in front of Century II that faces Douglas.

So far, said Ann Keefer, the festival’s vice president for program development, feedback about the changes has been positive.

“People are excited,” she said. “We’re getting all kinds of inquiries from people outside of Wichita — people who are coming from Chicago and Lawrence and Manhattan.”

Kennedy Plaza won’t be the only place for live music, though.

The festival has invited a long list of local bands to perform everywhere from the main food court stage to the WaterWalk Pavilion, which comes to life on the festival’s final four days with performers such as Wade Bowen and Logan Mize. There will even be kid-friendly entertainers on a floating stage facing A. Price Woodard Park, the home of the Cox Kid Zone.

“The charge was to really infuse the festival with a lot more local talent and to also infuse it with a lot more variety,” Keefer said.

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