Published 12:00 am Monday, April 19, 2004

attend Riverfest, lock in its return next year

[4/19/04]The shaky financial ground on which Riverfest stood for a year has been firmed up by the 17,000 people who attended weekend events.

“We had more people downtown Saturday and Saturday night than we’ve ever had before,” said Riverfest 2004 President Jenifer Sharp.

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After a venue move in 2003 to the Vicksburg Convention Center due to construction on Washington Street, attendance was down to 12,000, and organizers said this year would make or break the festival.

Friday and Saturday events, including competitions, sales, concerts and dances, took place under clear skies, and attendance returned to 2002 levels.

“We spent every dime in the checkbook, and it turned out better than we ever expected,” Sharp said.

Riverfest was begun 17 years ago by the Chamber of Commerce and other entities using the spring Arts and Crafts Show around the Old Court House Museum as a focal point. The festival has since spun off into an independent organization.

Entertainment director Eddie Arnold said crowds seemed to enjoy this year’s acts, that included musical groups Friday and Saturday nights and Alcorn State University’s Jazz Festival performances.

“As far as the entertainment end goes, it was one of the best Riverfests we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’ve not seen crowds this huge since the mid-1990s.”

Arnold said visiting bands, such as the New Orleans-based West End and Jackson’s Compozitionz, also enjoyed the Riverfest experience in Vicksburg.

Arnold said board members gave Brian Howe, Bad Company’s lead singer who was one of Saturday’s headliners, a tour of Vicksburg.

“On stage Saturday night, he said he was thinking of buying a house in Vicksburg,” Arnold said.

The 16 board members will meet in a few weeks to plan for the coming year.

“We’re looking for what we can do next year to generate more interest from sponsors,” said Steve Reynolds, vice president of Riverfest 2004.