Riverfest ‘success’ despite rainout

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 20, 2009

Between 3,000 and 3,500 people attended Riverfest Friday night and about 500 attended Saturday night’s Alcorn State University Jazz Festival — which was an indoor event and, unlike Saturday night’s Riverfest music schedule, did not have to be canceled due to rain.

“Considering the rain threat on Friday afternoon, Friday night was a success,” said Riverfest treasurer Dirk Copelin. “Saturday was a success because of the rain insurance.”

The separate jazz event, formerly affiliated with Riverfest, was at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

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“I felt like it was even bigger than last year,” said Shirley Waring, event coordinator. “It was a great turnout, a great show and we’re really ready to bump it up a notch next year for the 30th annual festival.” Student musicians were on the stage during the day with an all-star, all-female group headlining Saturday night for a free show.

Copelin said Riverfest, which depends on ticket sales and sponsorships to keep operating, will recover all of the costs for performers scheduled Saturday because more than one-third of an inch of rain fell in the first three hours after gates opened at 6 p.m. — the gauge set in the festival’s rain-out insurance policy.

Although rain also threatened Friday, the first night’s headliner, county musician Andy Griggs, performed for thousands on Washington Street. 

Saturday at 8:30 p.m., with rain falling and only about 100 people attending, the decision was made to call off the show. The decision came in the middle of a set by local artist Anthony Walls and before country musician and festival headliner Aaron Tippin could take the stage.

Last year’s festival organizers said attendance was verifiable for the first time in 2008, with about 6,000 purchasing Riverfest tickets over both evenings.

The festival once again resulted in discord between event and city officials and Robert Ware, owner of The Ware House and several other downtown buildings. Ware said the center of the dispute was his plan to sell Miller-brand beer on his property over the objection of Budweiser vendors who, as event sponsors, negotiated an exclusive franchise. Ware was charged with public profanity shortly after the gates opened Friday. He conceded the profanity, but said it was in a phone conversation with his attorney, posted bond and was released shortly after his arrest.

In 2008, Ware objected to a fence put up outside his business to prevent his business’ patrons from entering the festival without paying. Ware said his business suffered throughout the festival once again this year.

“It’s not that I am anti-Riverfest. I am all for Riverfest. I just think it’s being held in the wrong venue,” said Ware this morning. “Sales on both Friday and Saturday night were the poorest in more than six months. Friday and Saturday night sales during Riverfest were 1/6th of the previous Friday and Saturday night.”

Free Riverfest events held downtown Saturday morning and afternoon were also affected by overcast skies and gusty winds, which preceded heavy showers and thunderstorms that began around 4 p.m. Roughly 20 percent of the 100 vendors tapped for the 41st annual Vicksburg-Warren County Riverfest Arts & Crafts Show canceled due to the weather. Held along Walnut, South and Crawford streets, the arts and crafts show drew only about half as many people as last year, said Riverfest secretary Erin Hern.

Participation at the second annual Rally on the River, held in conjunction with Riverfest for the first time this year, also suffered, presumably because of the weather. Just 15 bikers entered the bike show atop the parking garage on Walnut Street, while a half-dozen other bikers participated in the dice run and 10 people joined the dice walk through downtown. Event coordinator Kathy Triplett said the event raised $900 for child abuse prevention efforts, much less than the $7,000 raised by the 450 bikers who participated in the inaugural rally.

Riverfest is a nonprofit organization created after the spring festival was initiated 21 years ago.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com