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Wonderful crowd’ cited in success for 2004 Riverfest

Scott Ditto and his daughter, Samantha, 7, of Vicksburg rest beneath a shade tree on Washington Street near Grove to watch as people move about during Saturday’s Vicksburg Arts and Crafts Show. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[4/18/04]Riverfest is here to stay, organizers said Saturday after two days of festival fare, live music, downtown shopping and fun for children.

“We’ll be back because we’ve had a wonderful crowd,” said Riverfest 2004 president Jenifer Sharp.

During the day Saturday about 10,000 people strolled through Riverfest activities and the Vicksburg Arts and Crafts Show. Friday night’s crowd topped out at about 7,000.

With three hours left before the end of the festival Saturday night, 2,000 tickets had been sold for the concerts, food booths and carnival-like tents that lined three blocks of Washington Street.

The last of three headliners, Clarence Carter, was not scheduled to perform until 10:30.

“They’re still coming in,” Sharp said of festival-goers at 9.

“Thank you, Vicksburg, for the support,” said Rosalie Theobald, who heads the city’s Main Street Program. “Vicksburg really came through for this.”

Organizers had said this year’s festival, the 17th, must be a success for it to continue.

Attendance throughout the weekend last year was about 12,000.

As Bad Company with Brian Howe belted hits including “Are You Ready For Love?” Saturday night’s crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder at the South Stage, at Washington and Crawford streets.

On the North Stage, at China and Washington, Compozitionz energized the crowd, drawing many to their feet.

Performing “I’m Losing You,” the Motown quintet got the crowd to join in, and a Vicksburg teen, Chris Higgins, break danced, to the delight of the band and the crowd.

With its move back to Washington Street after a year at the Vicksburg Convention Center and the Arts and Crafts Show’s move to Washington because of construction at Court Square, the one-street festival drew more people who stayed longer.

“With the arts and crafts next to Riverfest, I think they complemented each other really well,” said Barry Graham, who co-directed the show with his wife, Cathleen Graham.

It was the 36th show and this year stretched along Washington from Grove to Main.

“We had a lot more than we’ve had before,” Barry Graham said, adding that numbers were hard to estimate because the event is free.

At the end of the show, five people were judged by local artist Wanda Warren as first-place in arts and crafts: Janice McKercher of Vicksburg, Tom Henry of Philadelphia, Kathy Ray of Moss Point, Heather Thompson of Butler, Ala., and Richard Rhoden of Greenville.

Business owners along Washington also were busy as festival traffic flowed into their stores.

Charles Borrello, owner of the downtown restaurant Borrello’s, said weekend revenues were yet to be seen, but business was good.

“If nothing else, it was a great promotion for downtown,” he said. “A lot of people that normally don’t come downtown came downtown.”

And Jo Carlisle, co-owner of the Chocolate Derby, said the crowd was steady there as well.

“This is a great thing. People need to come downtown more often and if this brings them downtown, then OK,” she said.

Up and down the street, gymnasts flipped, youngsters played and jazz bands blared out.

Events during the day included Alcorn State University’s Jazz Festival, dance performances in the street, chances to win prizes at carnival booths and a mechanical bull was available for those seeking a thrill.

A new event for this year’s Riverfest was a crawfish-eating contest sponsored by the Vicksburg Jaycees. Contestants stuffed themselves while trying to see who could finish 5 pounds of crawfish the fastest.

The Saturday afternoon contest raised $300 for the Haven House Family Shelter. The overall winner was Jody Gatlin in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Second place went to Jerry McCarthy with a time of 4 minutes and 55 seconds; third place went to Damon Henderson with a time of 5 minutes and 1 second.

Morgan Teller, 9, got her kicks by climbing a rock wall at Crawford and Washington. She tried three times and made it to the top her last two times.

“I take acrobatics from Miss Debra (Franco), and I like to climb,” said the fourth-grader at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School, who added that rock climbing was the best thing about Riverfest.

Another youngster, Raeann Jones, was having fun flipping her way down Washington Street. The 7-year-old performed backward rolls, back walkovers and back handsprings with a group from GymSouth.

Organizers have said they tried to combat previous years’ complaints by adding seating and kids’ activities. It worked, they said.

“It was a gamble,” said Riverfest 2004 vice president Steve Reynolds. “We threw it all out there, and it worked better than any of us ever hoped.

“We’re looking forward to bigger and better next year.”