2016 Wichita River Festival highlights
As Riverfest roared to a conclusion Saturday evening with the Capitol Federal Fantastic Firework Finale, organizers were optimistic 2016 may have broken 2015’s attendance record.
“We strongly feel that it’s possible,” said Teri Mott, director of marketing and communications for Wichita Festivals. “450,000 is a reasonable number to assume.”
Last year, Riverfest attracted more than 410,000 people, which improved on 2014’s estimated 380,000 in attendance, according to Wichita Festivals.
Perhaps for the first time in years, there wasn’t a single drop of rain that fell on any of the nine days of Riverfest.
In return, festivalgoers baked under 90-degree heat the majority of the week; most were well-prepared with water, sunscreen and related items, said Mary Beth Jarvis, president and CEO of Wichita Festivals.
“Festival attendees came prepared for the heat,” she said.
“It’s been a very friendly festival of the hundreds of thousands of people who came,” she said, referencing the fact there were few arrests and no large disturbances going into Saturday.
While she said exact numbers will not come in until about July, organizers could tell on Saturday that food court sales had increased over 2015’s numbers.
Sales figures for discounted early-bird buttons, which were available in the months before Riverfest’s official start, were strong, as were on-site button sales for $10, Mott said.
Some of the festival’s most-attended days were opening night; Thursday, when Reel Big Fish played a show; Friday, when “Exes and Ohs” singer Elle King performed; and Saturday, for The Roots’ concert and the fireworks show, Mott said.
Festivalgoer Kristin Journey, 22, praised the improved security at the festival this year. She said she had been coming to the festival almost every year recently, but 2016 felt the safest it’s been in a while.
“It’s very secure,” she said, adding that the improved security was one of the reasons she took her toddler along.
Michael Jackson, 53, was at the festival Saturday afternoon. He swears that’s his birth name – “I wouldn’t make up that crap,” he assured an Eagle reporter.
2016 was the first time he had been to the festival in 15 years, he said, because he and his wife live in Oklahoma.
He lamented the absence of bathtub races, a longstanding festival tradition that was discontinued after 2008.
“It was always fun,” he said.
The Capitol Federal Fantastic Firework Finale was put on by Western Enterprises, a company that puts on fireworks shows around the country.
Mark Freeland was the lead technician for Western’s Riverfest show.
He said it takes about a week to plan out a fireworks show, then it takes about two days to physically set it up.
The first thing to be designed is the soundtrack, he said.
This year, the songs in that medley ran the gamut from ’60s music to Motley Crue to Charli XCX, he said.
Choreographers take that music and design the fireworks show from there – when the music speeds up, fireworks are shot faster, and the reverse is true when the music slows down.
“If there’s a big hit in the music, a cymbal crash or a really big note, that’s when you’re going to want a firework to go off,” Freeland said.
Freeland didn’t have exact figures, but he said a fireworks show of Riverfest’s caliber would cost more than $20,000.
“I’m blessed in that I don’t deal with the contracts – I deal with the logistics,” he said. “I don’t ever ask how much it is. They just point me in a direction, and I shoot.”
Earlier Saturday afternoon, festival officials said they expected attendance at the fireworks show to push the festival over its attendance goals.
“If attendance is even moderate, we’ll still be ahead of last year, but I expect it to be a big night,” Jarvis said.