A fun-packed festival

Friday sets off another round of fun, runs, races, games, concerts and fair food.
Friday sets off another round of fun, runs, races, games, concerts and fair food.

Ducking out of rainy mid-May a few years ago hasn’t spared the Wichita River Festival from getting all wet at times. But a little rain, or a lot, doesn’t get Riverfest down – and shouldn’t keep the crowds from coming out for the community’s annual go-to event.

Friday sets off another round of fun, runs, races, games, concerts and fair food – which means variously fried, frozen, on a stick and irresistible. The big first night offers the Sundown Parade, the Twilight Pops Concert with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and singer Karla Burns, followed by fireworks. Across its nine days, the festival also will hear from Easton Corbin and Logan Mize, the Village People, Flogging Molly, Erica Campbell, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Mayer Hawthorne, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Riders in the Sky and Grupo Mojado. And the finale fireworks show will make a comeback June 6.

Organizers have looked to boost the participatory factor that has helped make Riverfest such a down-to-earth and sometimes goofy success story over the years. The 2015 schedule includes the bizarre sport of bubble soccer, whose players are encased in inflated plastic; human foosball; and attempts to set new world records for the longest single line of moving bicyclists and the largest human image of an airplane.

The long-running events back for more include the River Run and The Eagle Medallion Hunt. It’s also great to see the return of Festival of Broadway and the addition of a farmers market. For clues to finding the medallion and all of The Eagle’s Riverfest coverage, go to Kansas.com.

If the forecast again is a concern, the bigger uncertainty this year may be the impact on attendance of the doubled button price, from $5 to $10. Pushing admission into the double digits is a big step for the once-free festival. But the $9,717 budget of the 1970 Wichitennial is a distant memory, and the one-time $10 cost offers an outstanding value over the nine days. Plus, the button for a child remains $3 (free for 5 and under).

The 2014 attendance of 380,000 people was up 5 percent from 2013 and 30 percent from 2012. Button sales and sponsorships also were strong last year.

The good work of the Wichita Festivals organization and president and CEO Mary Beth Jarvis will be aided during this 44th Riverfest by many businesses, organizations and individual volunteers. If the festival has lost something in recent years by adding fencing and enforcing a button rule, it’s gained a lot, too, by shoring up its finances and booking affordable acts with wide appeal.

Join the great gathering that is Riverfest Friday through June 6, and be part of deepening this uplifting community tradition.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman