River Festival

Your guide to what’s new at Riverfest this year — from carnivals to heavy metal karaoke

Attention Wichitans: Summer is coming soon.

Riverfest 2019 officially starts on Friday — and the Arkansas River is certainly prepared.

The festival, long seen as a harbinger of warm weather and no school in Wichita, is known for its classic, every-year events. Every year, though, a few new ones seem to spring up as less-popular ones fade away into the sunset.

Here’s a quick guide to the best of the new events at Riverfest this year:

New parade route

6:30 p.m. Fri., east festival grounds

As my colleague Denise Neil wrote earlier this month, the festival is changing the route of the Safelite AutoGlass Sundown Parade. The parade will now start at Second and Main and travel all the way down Main to English Street, where it will turn east one block and head back up to Second and Market.

If you’re one of the longtime watchers on Waco or Douglas, try watching from the old Central Library, which offers shade and plenty of viewing spots.

New Parade Route Map.jpg
Wichita Festivals Courtesy

Ottaway Carnival

6 p.m.-midnight Fri., 1 p.m.-midnight Sat., 1-10 p.m. Sun., 6-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 6 p.m.-midnight Fri., June 7, 1 p.m.-midnight Sat., June 8, 215 S. Broadway

As Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was being demolished earlier this year, Riverfest fans may have been wondering what would happen to the renegade carnival that would always set up in the stadium parking lot during the festival. This year, Riverfest has officially adopted the Ottaway Amusements carnival that always operated there and made it a festival event.

It will be set up in a parking lot at Broadway and William, a short walk from the festival grounds. A Riverfest button gets you into the carnival, but it’ll still be $3.50 for most rides. Wristbands good for a session of unlimited rides are $28 a person, and sessions are from 1 to 5 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. on Sunday; from 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 6 to 11 p.m. both Fridays; and from 1 to 5 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. both Saturdays.

The Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Market

11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun., Century II — Exhibition Hall

For those who like their festival shopping to be a little more high-class than fried foods, there’s the Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Market. This indoor fair features handmade goods from artisans all over the Midwest — from artwork to jewelry and clothes. Find a unique gift for that special someone all while enjoying an afternoon at Riverfest. The craft fair, which was recently named one of the Top 35 Indie Craft Fairs in the World, can be found online at www.thestrawberryswing.org.

Project PopCon

3-8 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun., Century II — Expo Hall

Yes, that’s PopCon, not “popcorn.” Project PopCon is a new event hosted by Midwest eSports, Air Capital Comic Con and Anime Festival Wichita. It’s a smorgasbord of all things geek pop culture — featuring comic books, cosplay, steampunk, sci-fi, eSports, Renaissance Fest, Anime Fest, Zombie Fest, and more. The event is family-friendly and all you need to get in is a Riverfest button.

Riverfest Cornhole Tournament

6-10 p.m. Fri., 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun., 6-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri., June 7, & Sat., June 8, Cox Kids’ Corner

Cornhole is in right now, so Riverfest has designated a special cornhole-only zone in the Cox Kids’ Corner for people to play. Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s in the “Kids’ Corner,” because it’s an all-ages event. Each day there will be tournaments in different divisions, including doubles, singles, seniors, juniors, women’s co-eds, and blind draw doubles.


6-8 p.m. daily, Ackerman’s Backyard

MapMusik is an ongoing experimental music project spearheaded by Vibrant ICT, Fisch Haus and a collective of local musicians and artists. People submit four to six seconds of video featuring festival sounds, and percussionist Von Miller will arrange a musical “sound snapshot” of the festival, which will be played at 7:15 p.m. Fri., June 7, on the Wichita Acura Dealers Stage (formerly known as the Kennedy Plaza Stage).

Heavy metal karaoke

6:30-9:30 p.m. Mon., RedGuard Stage

And taking home the prize for wackiest event of the festival is “heavy metal karaoke,” which takes place Monday night just across the fairgrounds from Gospelfest. Marta McKim, a local belly dancer, has been doing these heavy metal karaoke sessions at bars like Kirby’s and Lucky’s, which have apparent been big hits. She’s hosting a night of heavy metal karaoke this year at the Riverfest, so start practicing. Those Dave Mustaine songs can be a bit taxing on the vocal cords.

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Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.