Eagle editorial: Party at the river

The Wichita River Festival has built up a lot of fond memories and good will over four decades. But paying the bills and securing Riverfest’s future will take new enthusiasm and greater participation from south-central Kansans, to go along with the fresh eyes and ideas now at work in Wichita Festivals’ front office.

The slide of four money-losing years, including an $85,000 deficit last year, is not sustainable. So it’s encouraging that sponsorships are up nearly 15 percent this year over 2012. Sponsorships are how businesses and organizations in the region signal their support for Riverfest, allowing for the strong lineup of activities and concerts that will beckon people downtown.

If the festival is going to right its finances, it also will need more festivalgoers and button buyers, and to close the gap between those two categories. (Last year saw an estimated 275,000 festivalgoers but just 75,000 buttons sold.) The family-friendly strategy of introducing a $3 child’s button should help, as should better emphasizing a program that underwrites buttons for those who can’t afford the $5 price and better enforcing the button rule within the festival perimeter.

Because of some other smart changes already made on the watch of new Wichita Festivals president and CEO Mary Beth Jarvis, the 2013 Riverfest is more likely than some recent incarnations to offer plenty for everybody. Check out Friday’s Go! section for a complete guide to the festival, which lasts from Friday through June 8.

Twenty events are new, including a June 8 beach party on Kennedy Plaza complete with 310 tons of sand and a concert by the Go-Go’s. Some old favorites are back as well, including the Cajun Food Fest and The Eagle’s Medallion Hunt (check for daily clues for the latter in The Eagle and on Kansas.com). The other name performers should have drawing power, too – including Chris Mann of “The Voice,” Phantom Blues Band with Mike Finnigan, Montgomery Gentry, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Big Head Todd and the Monsters – without necessitating an extra admission charge.

“I think the goal is to find the sweet spot where you honor and build on the tradition while also finding a way to continue to be relevant and inject energy and evolution to keep it fresh for each generation,” Jarvis told The Eagle.

That’s the right goal and game plan.

Now, if only Jarvis could wall off the Riverfest from bad weather, the way it’s trying to do with the button scofflaws.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman