By the time this is published, the stages will be going up, streets will be blocked off, vendors will be arranging their wares, PA systems will be going live and the River Market district will be a buzzing hive of activity, all in preparation for the 36th annual Riverfest and the thousands of people it will bring downtown.
As with most events of its age, Riverfest has changed over the years, growing from an event with mostly classical music into a three-day affair with multiple stages, food and clothing vendors, carnival rides and games, wiener dog races, a Baggo tournament and a bunch of other activities.
The music is still the central component of the festival, though. Lineup kvetching has become something of an annual tradition, with a seeming bevy of Facebook detractors bemoaning the headlining acts. Most complaints run along the lines of "Worst lineup ever. Gawd. Why didn't they get Daft Punk and Kanye West? Wah."
But, as has been pointed out many a time, booking a couple of the biggest of big-name acts would take up most if not all of the music budget. The organization this year spent about what it did last year on entertainment, said DeAnna Korte, executive director. That was $650,000-$700,000.
Obviously, Riverfest isn't aiming to be a Coachella or Austin City Limits Festival. It's run by a nonprofit organization that is supposed to put on an event with broad appeal and something for most everyone in a small-ish Southern state, while maintaining an affordable ticket price. Yes, Hangout Music Fest had a great lineup this year. It was also $230 for a three-day pass. That said, tickets to Riverfest have been purchased in 35 states total, so the appeal is not strictly local or even regional.
Early discounted tickets for Riverfest started at $10 for a three-day pass and went up to $17.50. If there are even one or two bands you'd like to see, that is indisputably a bargain. Even the full gate price of $35 is a deal. And there are also plenty of free activities for families in the KidZone and Family Zone areas.
But have the organizers ever considered doubling or tripling the ticket price, and therefore the music budget?
"We reevaluate every year and those conversations have come up," Korte said. "I think at some point what it comes back to is, we want to offer something for everybody. I think once you raise that ticket price, you become strictly a music festival." And Riverfest is more than just music.
For instance, if you haven't checked out the Super Retriever Series, you are missing out. It's like a long-jump for dogs but with a huge tank of water instead of sand, and it's awesome. The Baggo tournament should be a good time as well. There are teams from as far away as Sacramento, Calif., coming in to compete.
New this year: The Museum of Discovery will be open during Riverfest for the first time in years, with discounted admission. Also, The Stickyz Music Tent is now the Stickyz Music Stage (read more about it on page 26).
"It is going to be located between the amphitheater stage and the Bud Light stage down in what I call the grassy knolls at the Clinton Center, close to the Bill Clark wetlands," Korte said. "It'll be a really nice atmosphere; you can throw a blanket down. We've got some really great music on that stage."
The full music lineup is available on page 20. The schedule for other activities is available at riverfestarkansas.com.
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