The Wichita Riverfest is known for its greasy goodness, its fireworks fabulousness, its riverside rowdiness.
But the festival – which was often too rainy when it was in May and is sometimes too sweaty and steamy now that it’s in June – hasn’t always been known for its comfort factor. Wichitans gamely melt as they eat roasted ears of corn in the food court, the noontime sun burning holes in their scalps, but that doesn’t mean it feels good.
Riverfest organizers and volunteers feel that pain, so much so that they’ve found remedies over the years, including placing shade-providing umbrellas where people are selling buttons and providing air-conditioned hideaways where staff and volunteers can take cool-down breaks.
This year, they decided Riverfest attendees deserve to enjoy some of those creature comforts, too, and they made providing little luxuries a top priority.
When the downtown festival opens on Friday for its annual nine-day run, attendees will find several new additions intended to increase their comfort and make them want to stay longer – and come back sooner. The additions include things like covered food court seating, misting stations, air-conditioned hideaways, even a jumbo tron that will provide information and views festivalgoers may have otherwise missed.
“We’re really just trying to think about what is going to make our attendees’ lives easier and allow them to spend more time at the festival,” said Mary Beth Jarvis, the festival’s president and CEO.
Following is a list of comfort upgrades at this year’s festival, which runs Friday through June 10 in the areas in and around Century II.
▪ Food court tent: One of the food court’s most popular times is the weekday lunch hour, when downtown workers sneak over to grab a Bodacious Burrito and a funnel cake. But lunchtime also is when the sun is most intensely beating down on the food court seating area, and people are always competing for the tables in the shade.
But that won’t be as much of a problem this year. Organizers are erecting a giant tent on the main food court and putting tables underneath it, which will provide perpetual food court shade.
Of course, full sun will still be available for those who like to sweat when they eat.
“But I think some folks will really appreciate the shade in the food court, particularly those coming down for lunch,” Jarvis said. “We do find the most popular tables are those that have a little cover.”
▪ Misters, misters everywhere: On days when shade isn’t enough to battle the heat, festivalgoers will be able to chill out by getting ever-so-slightly wet. Those who have never felt the joy of a mister on a hot day will find out that a light spray of water to the skin can quickly cool down an overheated body. Two big ones will be set up – one on the northern part of the festival footprint, near Kennedy Plaza, and one on the southern part, near the RedGuard Stage area. In addition, several smaller misters made using hoses will spurt here and there across the festival.
▪ An air-conditioned respite: The festival also is adding services to its “care stations,” which Jarvis describes as “air-conditioned, 40-foot-long trailers that are islands of care and respite.” Already at past festivals, people could step inside to get out of the heat and take medications, change a baby’s diaper or seek first aid. This year, the trailers also will have ice water to share and wheelchairs to loan. One trailer will be near the RedGuard Stage, and the other will be along Douglas near Kennedy Plaza.
▪ More indoors: Conscious of the potential for extreme heat, the festival has moved several of its big events inside the air-conditioned Century II. This year, all of Black Top Nationals, a car show scheduled for June 9-10, and the festival’s new Craftapalooza, a craft fair on June 10, will be staged inside. Another new event – a comic book event that’s the festival’s answer to Comic-Con, called “WichiCon,” happens Saturday and June 4 and also will be completely indoors.
▪ Lots of lockers: Also new this year is the addition of lockers that can be used by visitors. They’ll be stationed at the entrance, and for a small fee, people can use them to ditch diaper bags, blankets, any outside foods, etc. And they’ll be able to come and go, accessing their lockers, then returning to the fun. “Some folks might see that as a real advantage to go throw the diaper bag in that and not have to lug it around,” Jarvis said.
▪ Jumbo tron: This year, the festival invested in a 10-foot-tall by 20-foot-wide jumbo tron, which will spend time at three different spots through the duration of the festival. The jumbo tron, which also has audio, will serve a variety of purposes, Jarvis said. For instance, it will simulcast Kennedy Plaza concerts to people seated in the food court. It will show clips from events that happened earlier in the day. It will broadcast useful schedule information and feature heartwarming profiles of festival volunteers.
▪ VIP upgrades: Those willing to pay can get even more creature comforts and conveniences. This year, the festival announced the addition of VIP packages that cost $25 (in addition to the cost of a button) and offer up-close views, a private bar and, in some cases, VIP porta-potty access. VIP tickets are available for the Flaming Lips, LoCash, Mavis Staples, Common and OK Go and are available at www.wichitariverfest.com.
For a guide to new events and changes at this year’s festival, see the Go! section in this Friday’s Wichita Eagle.
What: An annual downtown festival that includes concerts, festival fare and fun activities
When: Friday-June 10
Admission: Buttons are $10 for adults, $5 for children 6-12, and free for children 5 and younger. They’re available in person at QuikTrip and Dillons stores and at the Wichita Festivals office, 444 E. William. They’re also available at the gates during the festival. You also can order them through www.selectaseat.com, which charges an additional $5.45 in fees.
For a complete schedule: Visit www.wichitariverfest.com.