Riverfest newbs unite!
Though I grew up only about an hour from Wichita, I have never really experienced a Riverfest. It wasn't anything we'd venture in for when I was a kid. We'd see coverage on local news, back when people still had antennas, so we knew about it. As an adult, I never really lived here, so until two years ago when I was doing a show at the Crown Uptown while it was going on, I had virtually no Riverfestsperience. That experience was only one afternoon at the food court, after which I avoided the crowded area like the plague. Not the proverbial plague — the actual plague, because I'm pretty sure I saw a plague tent.
Because of my lack of experience I really only have a hazy, peripheral idea of what The Wichita River Festival is all about. Thanks to recent rains, unlike in some recent years, this festival will actually take place next to a river rather than an empty space where water once flowed.
For those of you who've never been to a Riverfest at all, or might also be from out of town, I thought I'd help out by letting you know about Riverfest from the perspective of never having been to one, but having seen it on the news and internet, mostly many years ago.
To begin with, there is a sundown parade, which I assume takes place at sundown, which is presided over by a local businessperson dressed as a Gilbert and Sullivan version of British admiralty. He then cuts the ribbon or blows the horn or something to formally begin the festival. He rides a giant covered wagon styled as a sailing vessel, a float which is so huge it barely fits between the buildings on Douglas.
The Wichita Eagle holds a medallion hunt (does this still happen?) which involves people reading the paper daily (does this still happen?) to get clues which will lead them to the treasure's secret hiding place. People leave their houses (does this still happen?) to go out in search of a freshly minted Riverfest coin which is worth many thousands of dollars to the person who gets the coin to the Eagle offices. So far as I know, you're not required to be the person who found the coin, just the person who turns it in. I would just wait at The Eagle for some other schlub to get the medallion, then take it from them.*
You can look forward to a bathtub race during which people take old bathtubs and attempt to make them seaworthy enough to be the first to reach the Gulf of Mexico. This event is much easier and causes many fewer casualties than it used to before the advent of cellphones and modern GPS technology. If you walk down the river, you'll pass a wall of remembrance which I assume is for people lost in the bathtub race.
At some point, tens of thousands of plastic ducks will be floated out onto the river. People will gather to watch the current take these toys, offering them as a sacrifice to the river god who provides our sustenance. This is much better than the old way, which involved the second-born son of every noble house, a barge and a volley of burning arrows. The ducks are a better way, most agree, and will even offer up money to sponsor a sacrifice duck in many cases.
There will be a ton of music including national acts, most of which in the past have been Whitesnake cover bands. This year, the theme is much more eclectic, which I assume means that Air Supply will also be there. Having read a bit about this year's lineup online, I have to hope the bands will be even half as entertaining as reading the internet comment thread arguments about the music.
The rides at Riverfest are something I've never been all that clear on, but based on the button/poster art I take it that there will be jetpacks. I'm both excited and nervous about this. I want to fly a jetpack — for sure. However, many of the people who come out for Riverfest are not really the type you want to share the airspace with. Can you imagine if the bemulleted drunks who yearly fall into the river in front of the School of Rock float got hold of personal flight devices? No way I want to be anywhere near where this is happening. I do, however, want to watch it on YouTube later. Sorry, Riverfest, this jetpack thing is a no-go unless I can take mine home to enjoy later.
Back to the buttons — during Riverfest, having a button is like having a golden ticket. You can use it, apparently, to get into any event, building or venue in town. For the 10 days of the festival, you can even use your Riverfest button as ID and it is even accepted as currency in the bartertown that will spring up around Century II.
My favorite resource for Riverfest info is the Twitterfeed @PeopleRiverfest, which documents the spectacular people watching which is the primary highlight of any festival experience. (FYI, tomorrow night's Dead Martin show is offering a prize to the best "Person of Riverfest" costume in the audience.)
Clearly, some of my ideas of what happens at Riverfest might be partially incorrect, but I look forward to figuring out what it is REALLY about this year. I hope to, anyway. I'll be there as soon as I can steal a button from someone as they walk out of a QT*.
*This is called a "Belloq Maneuver."