Riverfest is dead, a victim of cost and competition | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Riverfest is dead, a victim of cost and competition

Posted By on Tue, Jul 18, 2017 at 12:58 PM

THE LAST HURRAH: A scene from Riverfest 2017, the last in a 40-year-old festival. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • THE LAST HURRAH: A scene from Riverfest 2017, the last in a 40-year-old festival.

Rising costs and competition have spelled the end of Riverfest after a run of more than 40 years.

A news release today announced the suspension of the annual music festival, once a Memorial Day weekend staple. It was reconfigured to be staged a week later, with a separate earlier event for families that reflected the festival's origins. It wasn't enough.

Rock Candy has more. Here's the news release:


On Tuesday, the Riverfest, Inc. board of directors announced its decision to suspend its annual music festival, a tradition that celebrated 40 years with its most recent event in June 2017.

“We can no longer deliver the experience that Riverfest fans have come to expect,” said DeAnna Korte, the festival’s executive director. “Rising costs of performers’ fees, coupled with a greater number of competing festivals around the country are the
underlying factors leading to this decision.”

“With our bills paid, and our heads held high, we are closing the doors,” said Riverfest board member Cheddy Wigginton, who has served two terms as board chairman and in various other positions throughout the years. “We had a fantastic 40-year run, and we had
a great economic impact upon Little Rock and Arkansas. DeAnna and her team – supported by thousands of dedicated volunteers – did a phenomenal job.”

Riverfest, a 501(c)(3) organization and celebration of visual and performing arts held annually on the banks of the Arkansas River in Little Rock, is the largest single event in the state of Arkansas, with a rich tradition. At its height, Riverfest hosted more than
250,000 attendees, with an estimated annual economic impact of $33 million in the community.

The announcement follows a national trend of festivals announcing closure, cancellation and bankruptcy. At least nine festivals in seven states and in Washington, D.C. announced that their 2016 events would not take place at all. Examples of festivals that have recently been cancelled include BayFest in Mobile, Ala.; Wakarusa in Ozark, Ark.; Gathering of the Vibes in Connecticut; Pemberton in Canada; and Karoondinha in Pennsylvania.

“For a nonprofit like Riverfest, it’s about income vs. expenses,” Korte stated. “We are a very small market, and there are larger music festivals surrounding us. The festival market is very crowded. It’s hard for a nonprofit to compete in a growing market of for-profit festivals, which are driving up prices and making it difficult to secure artists.”

Over the years, Riverfest adapted to changing market trends and demographics. “We tried to hit different demographics,” Korte said. “We knew we were never going to make everybody happy, but we strived to offer a bit of something in every musical genre.”

After a significant loss in 2015, Riverfest organizers realized the price of tickets going up was excluding the family demographic – they just couldn’t afford to come. “The music was driving the ticket sales, so we decided to focus on music for Riverfest and created
Springfest as a free family-focused event, that was also a nice way to give back to the community,” Korte said.

For 2016, Riverfest also made the decision to move away from Memorial Day weeken  in hopes of increasing attendance.

“We raised more money in sponsorships in 2017 than we have in our history,” Korte said. “Our sponsors have given us the ability to grow our festival, understanding the changes we were trying to make. But it takes money to make money, and we are a nonprofit
organization. The music industry as a whole has changed, and it is very difficult to compete. The whole reason for our existence is to give back to the community.”

Weather also was always a factor in Riverfest’s ability to be successful. “Our sole income prior to the event each year comes from our sponsor base, and we have had such great support over the years,” Korte said. “But it is an outdoor event, and we are always at the mercy of the weather for most of the revenue. It impacts not only ticket sales, butalso commissions from vendors.”

Riverfest, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that has contributed more than $1 million back to the community from proceeds of the event, including the development of Riverfront Park, a new roof on the First Security Amphitheater, and various projects in the riverfront and downtown areas. The festival also donates $1 of every ticket sold to the City of Little Rock.

“Our entire budget is $2.6 million,” Korte said. “That may sound like a lot, but in the world of music festivals, it is a shoestring budget. It costs $300,000 just to run two stages. Security, which is a high priority for us, is nearly $200,000. Fencing the perimeter is
$60,000. Cleaning the grounds is $30,000. We have done everything we could do to cut costs. We trimmed over $300,000 in expenses between 2015 and 2016. But we also want to provide a quality event. The things that we could control, we controlled, to the best of our ability. But there are a lot of uncontrolled variables.”

Korte, who has served 20 years with Riverfest – including the last 13 as director – feels a deep sense of gratitude to the Junior League of Little Rock, the Little Rock Parks & Recreation Department and the event’s volunteers. In addition to her position, the paid staff includes one other full-time employee and one part-time
.

Tags: ,

From the ArkTimes store

Favorite

Comments (21)

Showing 1-21 of 21

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-21 of 21

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • In Little Rock, Marco Rubio sells American exceptionalism

    This is Rubio's axiomatic answer to Donald Trump's insistence that he and he alone will Make America Great Again: America is the greatest, always has been.
    • Feb 22, 2016
  • Baseball fans have a new place to stay

    If you missed out on Razorback baseball home games this year because you couldn’t find a great place to stay, your problem is now solved: Staybridge Suites of Fayetteville is now fully renovated and located directly across from Baum Stadium, with free parking for hotel guests.
    • May 22, 2017
  • More on how highways were used to wipe out "blight" of non-white neighborhoods

    Vox, a news website that concerns itself with energy and other issues, has a fine piece, including before and after images, on the history of the U.S. interstate system and why roads were built through the middle of cities (unless people of influence stopped them — see Manhattan, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.)
    • Mar 22, 2016

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • The inadequate legacy of Brown

    LRSD continues to abdicate its responsibility to educate poor black students.

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation