Goodbye, Riverfest! Arkansans react to closure of annual musical festival

Goodbye, Riverfest. Event canceled after 40 years

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - It’s a sad day for fans of the capital city’s own Riverfest.

The 40-year-old event has been canceled because organizers can no longer deliver the experience they think people have come to expect.

It's the end of an era for those who’ve attended the event every summer.

For 40 years, people from all over Arkansas and surrounding areas have flocked downtown to enjoy food, fun, and music.

“People take things for granted. When you've had a 40-year tenure people assume it's always going to be here,” said Executive Director, DeAnna Korte. She’s been running the festival for 20 years.

“Things change and people move on” said Joe Kuonen.

Kuonen played in band called The Greasy Greens at the first ever Riverfest when it was held at Murray Park.

“Once they get better talent and start investing in local acts, I think they could see a better outcome,” Sean West said, another musician in the area.

West doesn’t think the festival or music scene here in Arkansas competes with larger metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

Riverfest started in 1978. Just last month, the festival celebrated a 40th anniversary with lots of changes and what organizers thought were upgrades.

“Soon as June 5th hit we started paying bills and looking at how it all turned out,” said Korte.

She acknowledged ticket prices increased greatly over the years, but thinks quality of entertainment did too.

But it was rising costs of fees that had an impact on the festivals decline.

“You can't make somebody buy a corn dog, you can't make somebody buy a coke,” Korte added.

At its height, organizers claim that Riverfest hosted more than 250,000 people with an estimated annual economic impact of $33,000,000.

“From the attendees to the volunteers, the thousands of volunteers over the years that have supported us, it's a loss. It's going to be something people will look back on and think, I never thought this would go away,” said Korte.

People in the community have mixed emotions. Some told us they aren’t surprised it’s all over. 

“If you're going to try to include our community in the festival, you need people from our community helping to make those decisions,” West said.

Others think the festival had a good run and will miss the comradery the event brings downtown each year.

"I kind of have mixed feelings about it, I know it's hard to run. It's a big event and there's lots of competition. At the same time, I've seen the community get together and have fun at Riverfest” said Kuonen.

The announcement follows a national trend of festivals announcing closure, cancelation 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 canceled include BayFest in Mobile, Alabama and Wakarusa in Ozark.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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