Rolling on the river 

It's no secret that Riverfest is greeted each year by a gallery of disparagers, detractors and nay-sayers at large. Any undertaking so enormous and, by nature, imperfect will always attract its share of criticism. Greatest hits include "the music line-up is below par," "it's too expensive" and "it's overcrowded." But, as it goes with every year, the scoffing from the peanut gallery always gets drowned out by the sound of a quarter of a million people taking to the river for a good time.

This year's music offering sticks to the "familiar, if not necessarily your favorite" strategy. Pleasing 250,000 people's ears is a tough charge. Even tougher: staying in budget. Riverfest's music budget runs from $600,000 to $650,000; a bright-lights name like Dave Matthews Band or Kings of Leon would single-handedly consume at least half of that. And there would still be whiners. Jam-band fans are in for a treat with noodling greats Widespread Panic filling Friday night with three hours-plus of Southern fried, Grateful rock; modern rockers can look forward to a double-header from Blue October and Papa Roach on Saturday; hair-metal fans will surely be breaking out the Aqua-Net for Poison's Friday night set, and Sunday night "is your chance to do the Hump" when Digital Underground brings its G-Funk hip-hop to the river before superstar St. Louis rapper Nelly closes out the festival.

For such a roster of acts, festival passes remain as remarkably low as always. At the gate, a three-day admission will run $30, roughly what you'd have to pay to see any of the headliners elsewhere. Sunday, the festival offers a one-day pass for $20 and, for the deal-hunter, Riverfest is offering a limited number of half-price tickets at area Walgreens, bringing the cost for a full festival pass down to an unarguable $15.

But while the state fair/town carnival/music festival hybrid is sticking to the strategy of live music, junk food and family events at a low cost for another year, festival director DeAnna Korte tells us 2011's Riverfest isn't without its share of alterations.

The change that will affect you the most: gone are the buttons, easy to counterfeit and effortless to pass off to other people, not to mention easy to lose and always threatening to pierce you in the chest. This year, Riverfesters will be outfitted with vinyl wristbands to be worn (or, preferably, "rocked") for the duration of the festival.

Also gone: a third stage. The Triple-S stage, which was under the Broadway bridge last year, has been phased out. But don't think you're only getting two-thirds of the music you'd expect. Instead, the Bud Lite Stage (at the Clinton Presidential Center) and the Miller Lite Stage (at the Riverfest Amphitheatre) will have more big-name acts bunched together each evening.

Another noticeable change on the festival map has the former Arkansas Music Tent re-branded as the Stickyz Music Tent. The stage, still beside the Main Street bridge, will be overseen by the music venue of the same name. Its line-up will retain a local focus before handing the mic over to a nightly, out-of-town top bill. Friday sees Will Hoge, a Nashville singer/songwriter, headline. On Saturday, the Justin Timberlake-signed rap-rock act FreeSol tops the bill. Sunday offers the Ozarks-based bluegrass of Big Smith.

Riverfest has also taken a cue from larger music festivals by offering VIP treatment; a $500 package offers two weekend passes to the festival, access to the VIP pavilions, complimentary beer and wine and a nightly dinner.

Not changing, however, is the festival's focus on events, attractions and family activities that don't involve booming rock music. The Riverfest "Rock 'n' Stroll" Fun Run and Walk returns for a second year, offering a family-friendly 5K on Saturday morning. The always-popular Super Retriever Series also sets up shop behind the DoubleTree Hotel for another year to showcase some of the nation's best gravity-defying canines during its three-day competition. As always, hounds abound with Ed Jakubowski and his Frisbee dogs doing their thing at the Clinton Presidential park, as well.



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