Riverfest 2014 preview 

CeeLo, fireworks, dogs doing interesting things highlight this year's Riverfest.

click to enlarge CeeLo Green

CeeLo Green

At this year's Riverfest, the colossal live music showcase and all-around cultural spectacle mounted every Memorial Day weekend in downtown Little Rock, there will be fire-eaters, East African acrobats and Hank Williams Jr. There will be face-painting and a rock wall, a fleet of food trucks and a dog circus. CeeLo Green will be performing, as will Salt-N-Pepa and Chicago and Buckcherry. There will obviously be fireworks.

It is the festival's 37th consecutive year, and DeAnna Korte's 10th as its executive director. "It really comes down now to Mother Nature," Korte told the Times in an interview on the eve of the event's set-up. "She really wields the hand. We can plan and do our part to make sure everything's good, but then Mother Nature will decide how the weekend goes. You can't control it, you just have to say a prayer and hope the weather holds out."

The trucks bearing tents arrived last Thursday, May 15, followed by the Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department, who prepared the festival area and shipped in more equipment. The grounds were wired for electricity, and the vendors started moving in on Monday. But as Korte explains, this is just the culmination of a process that began a year ago. "Myself, I'm already thinking about next year," she says. "I think that's what makes the event a success every year, the planning never stops."

It is thanks to a combination of "Southern hospitality" and a "good reputation in the festival industry," Korte says, that Riverfest is able to book artists of CeeLo's and Chicago's caliber, a particularly difficult proposition given the desirability of Memorial Day weekend for big events. But aside from the lineup of celebrity performers, a list that also includes groups like The Fray, Three Days Grace, The Wallflowers and Lee Brice, Riverfest also marks one of the biggest local music platforms of the year, a rare opportunity to see Arkansas favorites like Big Piph, Mulehead, Iron Tongue and Jim Mize on a huge scale.

Moreover, Korte emphasizes, "it's not just about the music." Parents and grandparents are honored guests here, and kids are at a special advantage. The Family Stage, in Heifer Village, will feature the Jesse White Tumbling Team, an iconic Chicago institution since 1959, and the Kenya Safari Acrobats, who jump through hoops, narrowly avoid all manner of flaming objects and contort themselves in fantastical displays of imaginative athletic prowess — all to a Benga beat. The Yarnell's Kidzone Stage will host a range of all-ages attractions (ventriloquists, ice cream eating contests, kazoos), as will the Deltic Timber Kidzone area (animal-themed arts and crafts, toddler drum circles, bubbles).

There will be a 5K "fun run" downtown (8 a.m. Saturday), a beer and wine tasting at the River Market Pavilions (5:30 p.m. Thursday), a bag toss at Heifer International that costs $100 (the grand prize is $1,500), a poker run and bike show for the leather vest set (10 a.m. Saturday) and, as Korte reminded us, "Everyone loves a Ferris wheel," so there's one of those, too. Darren McFadden will be on hand signing autographs, and we've already mentioned fireworks, but again: fireworks.

The festival also features a dizzying, curiously extensive number of dog-related activities, from Jonathan Offi's "World Famous" team of "canine athletes" (rescue dogs with an impressive repertoire of tricks and stunts, performing every day of the event) to the Crown Championship of the Super Retriever Series, essentially a diving event for dogs, who are persuaded to repeatedly leap into a swimming pool for our amusement. Also don't miss the well-titled " 'Cirque du Pup' Pooch Parade" Saturday morning at 9:30, which will be followed by the "Weenie Dog Derby." Don't be thrown by the name, either: As Korte explained, "We don't discriminate, so any short-legged dog can participate." And she means it. According to the Riverfest website, last year's winner was a Pomeranian.

Speaking of Riverfest

  • A Q&A with Diarrhea Planet

    June 2, 2014
    Following their excellent show, I sat down with Jordan Smith (guitar/vocals), Emmett Miller (guitar/vocals), and Brent Toler (guitar/vocals) as they shed some light on the highs and lows of relentless touring, unlikely influences (Prince is in the mix), and imminent world domination. /more/
  • Vote suppression

    May 29, 2014
    We now have proof positive from a chaotic and wildly inconsistent enforcement of the Voter ID law last week that rampant confusion exists on how the law is to be administered. /more/
  • Riverfest by the police numbers

    May 28, 2014
    The Little Rock police count of activities during Riverfest reflects mostly minor law infractions, many involving minors and alcohol. /more/
  • Market Street Cinema's move to Riverdale

    May 28, 2014
    The Market Street Cinema is moving to a vacant theater in the Riverdale shopping center — good news on several fronts for movie fans. Rock Candy, which had this news yesterday, also has an update on the Riverfest/CeeLo Green fee dispute. /more/
  • Why Riverfest stopped payment on CeeLo's check

    May 27, 2014
    Yesterday, we reported that Riverfest had a contractual dispute with headliner CeeLo Green over the length of his set Saturday night at the First Security Amphitheatre, and would not pay him anything beyond their initial deposit: "Most entertainers require a 10-50% deposit, and CeeLo's was on the higher end of the deposit range," said board spokesperson Cheddy Wigginton. This morning, in a statement to THV, CeeLo's manager denied that the festival had withheld payment, saying that "despite reports, they were given a check after his performance for the full amount discussed." /more/
  • Riverfest Photo Roundup

    May 27, 2014
    All is not exactly well in the world of Riverfest, with ticket sales reportedly down and CeeLo likely getting angrier by the second, but it was a perfectly memorable, crowded and strange weekend, and the Times' own Brian Chilson was there on the ground documenting it. Relive the thing from the safety of your own home / phone, far from the heat, the Jägermeister t-shirts and the chicken-on-a-stick. /more/
  • Riverfest in contract dispute with headliner CeeLo Green over length of show

    May 26, 2014
    Riverfest is withholding full payment of its contract with headliner CeeLo Green because it believes he didn't fulfill the contract's obligation on the length of his show. /more/
  • Riverfest lights up the night

    May 25, 2014
    The Arkansas River's illuminated bridges presented a fine photo opportunity for the Times' Brian Chilson last night as he covered Riverfest. You can see lots more of his photos of the crowd, performers and other sights at his Facebook page. Great stuff. /more/
  • Flying high at Riverfest

    May 24, 2014
    The Jesse White Tumblers made their annual appearance at Riverfest today. The weather was cooperating and big crowds seem likely for tonight's events including closing Saturday headliner Celo. And then there's Sunday. Consider this an open line. And don't forget to sign a petition supporting impeachment of Jason Rapert. /more/
  • Meat me at Riverfest

    May 24, 2014
    Should be another big day for Riverfest. Music, food and drink will be on offer, plus other entertainment. Brian Chilson last night provided a couple of food photos. Vegetables? I think I'd go for the meat on a stick. /more/
  • More »

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