Riverfest Ends After 40 Years

After a 40-year run, the Riverfest Music Festival held annually in Little Rock has ended with an announcement made Tuesday by its board.

“We can no longer deliver the experience that Riverfest fans have come to expect,” said DeAnna Korte, the festival’s executive director, in the statement today. “Rising costs of performers’ fees, coupled with a greater number of competing festivals around the country, are the underlying factors leading to this decision.”

Al Green, Bush, The Black Crowes, ZZ Top, The Flaming Lips, 311, Chevelle, Willie Nelson, Widespread Panic, Buddy Guy, Boyz II Men, Nelly, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doobie Brothers, Dwight Yoakum, and Snoop Dogg are just a smattering of the hugely popular musical acts that have graced the stage over Riverfest’s 40-year history. While at its height, the festival hosted more than 250,000 attendees but with the recent explosion of music festivals that number has dwindled to 125,000 in 2017.

“For a nonprofit like Riverfest, it’s about income vs. expenses,” Korte said. “We are a very small market, and there are larger music festivals surrounding us. The festival market is very crowded. It’s hard for a nonprofit to compete in a growing market of for-profit festivals, which are driving up prices and making it difficult to secure artists.”

Riverfest is the largest single event in the state of Arkansas with a rich tradition. Each year, close to 200,000 festival-goers attended the event, with an estimated economic impact of $33 million in the community.  In 2017, Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary and for the second time was held in June, after moving off the traditional Memorial Day weekend the year prior.

HISTORY OF RIVERFEST

Riverfest began in August 1978 when the Junior League of Little Rock had the opportunity to bring the American Wind Symphony to Little Rock. The event was called The Summer Arts Festival and was held in Murray Park, with various activities built around the Wind Symphony’s performance.

The Summer Arts Festival was such a success that a decision was made to have a similar event the next year. The date was changed to Memorial Day Weekend, the name was changed to Riverfest, and the current logo was adopted. It was also at this point that Riverfest, Inc., 501(c)(3) a non-profit organization with a Board of Directors, was formed to operate the festival, with the Junior League of Little Rock committing to provide primary volunteer support.

In 1982 after outgrowing Murray Park, Riverfest moved downtown and the festival was held on the Convention Center Plaza along Markham Street. The following year, in 1983, Riverfest moved to its permanent home in Julius Breckling Riverfront Park and over 100,000 people attended the festival that year. As Riverfest grew and developed, a need for permanent staff arose and in 1987, a full-time Executive Director was hired.

Riverfest has continued to grow and expand along the banks of the Arkansas River in Julius Breckling Riverfront Park including an expansion to the North Shore Riverwalk in North Little Rock from 2002-2010. In 2009, the festival expanded to include the Clinton Presidential Park and library.  The festival continues to offer new and unique opportunities for festival-goers while playing a vital role as an organization helping the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock work together to make Arkansas a better place to live and work.