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Riverfest moved up a week; some events may be inside

[02/21/03]Vicksburg’s annual spring festival will be a week earlier than usual, and downtown events may be held several blocks from their traditional Washington Street locations, organizers said.

The festival, normally the third weekend in April, is set for April’s second weekend this year, April 11-12, to separate it from Easter Sunday, Riverfest board chairman Jose Oakley said. Resurfacing and straightening work on Washington Street through downtown is also forcing a location change. The Vicksburg Convention Center is being considered as an alternative, he said.

“We have an opportunity to have it at the convention center,” Oakley said, adding that such a move would mean one of the festival’s two stages would be indoors this year.

Friday and Saturday night street dances, which are the best-attended Riverfest events have been outdoors for the 15 previous festivals. Last year’s festival drew an estimated 15,000 people, but rain has been a frequent problem.

This year’s event is expected to have 11 musical acts, said Oakley, who is Isle of Capri Casino’s senior director of operations and in his third year as Riverfest board chairman. He said performers’ names would be released later.

Convention center director of business and operations Norman Ford confirmed the potential use of the facility. “We were available so we pitched in to try to help,” Ford said. He added that the prospective move would be “a one-time deal to try to address the street situation.”

The indoor stage would be in the convention center’s exhibit hall, its largest enclosed space, Ford said.

Riverfest is organized as a nonprofit corporation with 16 board members and is funded entirely by sponsorships, Oakley said.

The work on Washington Street began in January and is expected to be completed in August. When complete, the street will have a new brick surface, a straight route and two-way traffic for its entire length. The work is budgeted to cost $2.6 million.