Rockin’ on the water

Riverfest returns, bigger than ever, for 47th year

Written by Joe Stumpe

Maybe you can’t please everybody, but the folks at Riverfest seemed determined to try.

The 47th version of Wichita’s annual party along the Arkansas River features a diverse musical lineup, food, drink and scores of activities for kids and adults.

Not into music? Then how about catching a performance by the Xpogo stunt team, who use supercharged pogo sticks to launch themselves more than 10 feet into the air, jumping through fire, over people and other obstacles.

Worried about overheating? Festival organizers have been adding shade tents and more indoor events in Century II to give folks who need it a break from the great outdoors.

“We think there’s something for every audience,” Terri Mott of Wichita Festivals, Inc. said.

This year’s festival runs June 1–9. Early bird buttons, available through May 5 at Meineke Car Center locations in Wichita, Derby and Hutchinson, are $7 for adults and $3 for kids 6 and up (children 5 and under are free). After that, the price goes up to $10 for adults and $5 for kids. The buttons get wearers into nearly all of more than 100 scheduled events.

As usual, this year’s festival kicks off with the Sundowner Parade through downtown followed by the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s Twilight Pops Concert in Kennedy Plaza and fireworks over the river. Alt-rocker Liz Phair (June 8) and rising country artist Randy Houser (June 3) are two of dozens of national, regional and local musicians who will perform during the festival before Prince’s former bandmates, Morris Day and the Time, wrap things up July 9.

The festival’s revamping a few years back appears to have set a kind of bandwagon rolling. This year, for instance, an event that had been popular on its own — the Spring KidFest — becomes part of Riverfest’s second weekend.

Other new events and expected highlights of the 2018 festival include:

Squonk Opera, a theatrical troupe that mixes mechanical contraptions, steampunk costumes and bicycles to teach science, will perform three shows a day June 2–3 at the RedGuard Stage area. They will also take part in the Sundowner Parade.

The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show, featuring log rolling, wood chopping, axe throwing and more by world-champion lumberjacks, daily in Ackerman’s Backyard.

FestQuest, a scavenger-hunt-style contest with a $1,000 prize.

Salsa Chop-Off, a salsa contest June 7, with the winner getting their salsa served at Carlos O’ Kelly’s restaurants. Visit to enter.

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs will give away samples at the RedGuard Stage during the festival’s opening weekend.

Riverfest button swap and sale, of buttons from previous festivals, 1–5 p.m. in Heritage Park (behind the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum).

Dinosaur Days, in which kids can search for dinosaur fossils, June 8 in the Cox Kids Corner.

A 3-on-3 basketball tournament, June 3 at the Wichita Boathouse.

World music celebration starring Matisyahu and Stephen Marley, June 2 on the Kennedy Plaza Stage.

Gospelfest, headed by pastor John P. Kee, a member of the Christian Music Hall of Fame, takes over Kennedy Plaza June 3.

Wet ‘n Wild Dance Party featuring Cypress Hill at Kennedy Plaza, while Beatles tribute act Ringer Star performs on the RedGuard Stage and the Wichita Wagonmasters serve up the annual Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Social on Douglas, all happening June 6.

Blues artist ZZ Hill performs on the Kennedy Stage and the Goodwill Industries Cajun Food Fest dishes up Cajun Food, June 7.

For a complete listing of events, visit or download the Riverfest mobile app. Buttons are available at the festival site, QuickTrip, Dillons and other retailers.

Festival fun fact

There’s an interesting connection this year between the festival’s ambassador, Admiral Windwagon Smith, and its official artwork. The artwork is chosen each year through a contest in which many artists submit designs. This year’s winner, by Joe Worley, is a creative depiction of the jacket worn by Windwagon Smith. The design appears on festival posters and other promotional material.

Worley, a freelance illustrator and designer in Wichita, won $3,500 for his design. Tim Norton, who served as a Sedgwick County Commissioner for 16 years, is this year’s Windwagon Smith.

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