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The annual Riverfest food, music and arts festival in downtown Little Rock is changing dates and separating into two events next year.

For the past 38 years, the festival has taken place Memorial Day weekend. But starting in 2016, all of the family activities that are usually offered at Riverfest will be broken into a separate event called "Springfest" that will take place the first Saturday of April, which next year is April 2.

Then Riverfest will move to the first weekend of June, which is June 3-5 next year. That weekend will include the high-profile musical artists and other events for adults.

Flowing on the River, a separately ticketed wine and craft beer event, will be Friday, June 3. That leaves Saturday and Sunday for headline music performances, a decrease from the typical three days of headlining musical acts. There still will be some music on Friday, but the scope of that has not been decided, Riverfest Executive Director DeAnna Korte said.

"We know Riverfest serves two distinct audiences. After almost 40 years -- an amazing run for any festival -- it is time for a change to ensure all festivalgoers' needs and desires are met," Korte said.

Only "time will tell" how the decision to split the event will affect attendance, said Gretchen Hall, president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock Convention and Visitor's Bureau. This year about 225,000 people attended.

Having a separate family festival will help Riverfest better cater to its audiences, Hall said.

"We are looking forward to a new festival, because the spring festival will truly be a new product. And we hope they can capitalize on key entertainment to bring in music lovers for the Riverfest weekend who will stay the entire weekend," Hall said.

"Any festival 39 years in the making needs to re-evaluate from time to time. We think it's a positive change. I'm hopeful the music weekend will continue to draw very large crowds. Weekend business is important to us."

Vendors at the festival collected about $8,000 in advertisement and promotion tax revenue this year. Hall didn't know Thursday evening how much total money the festival generates for the area economy, but she said nearby hotels and restaurants get a good amount of business from the festival.

Since hotel taxes and food taxes are reported monthly, there's no way of knowing how much tax revenue is collected by area businesses over Riverfest weekend, Hall said.

The festival itself, which runs as a nonprofit, raised about $1.2 million in cash and in-kind donations this year.

Riverfest, which operates with the help of 3,000 volunteers, uses its profit to give back to the community.

It has donated more than $1 million since its founding, including a recent pledge of $150,000 toward installing a new roof on Little Rock's First Security Amphitheater, which is used as a Riverfest stage.

Korte said Thursday that suggestions for changing the date of Riverfest and splitting off the family events have been brewing for the past two decades.

"Most of the comments we have seen have been 'We wish you weren't on Memorial Day weekend. We do things with our families that weekend. We go to the lake.' Or it has been 'We can come, but we can only come one day,'" Korte said.

The date change also could affect the quality of the musical acts booked in the future. Korte said the festival has missed out on headline artists in the past because many take off that weekend to be with their own families.

The decision to separate the more family-oriented activities into a free event was made because some people don't want to pay the Riverfest ticket price just to take part in the children's activities, she said.

Next year, Springfest will start with the Rock 'n' Stroll 5K Fun Run, which will be followed by the Ruff on the River dog parade, the Super Retriever Series dog jumping competition, and children's arts and craft activities.

The Jesse White Tumblers will perform, and a concert by the duo Trout Fishing in America will close out the one-day event.

Riverfest will still have the arts and crafts merchants that attendees are accustomed to, and there will still be special events during the music portion of the festival.

"All the things you love about Riverfest will still be there," Korte said. "After 38 years, change can be hard for some people, but I think the majority of folks are really excited about the move."

A press release sent out Thursday by Riverfest noted the increased cost of booking artists, and how ticket prices have had to reflect that. The ticket cost for next year won't be decided until the end of this year, Korte said.

This year a three-day pass was $20, and the event featured musical acts such as Girl Talk, Sheryl Crow and 311.

"You are still not going to see a $200 ticket or a $100 ticket," Korte said. "We think we are extremely competitive and significantly lower than other popular music festivals."

The splitting of the festival into two events should only mean positive things for tourism and downtown businesses, said Rashmi Jain, owner of 4square Cafe and Gifts and Garden Square Cafe and Grocery in the River Market District in downtown Little Rock.

The festival takes place at nearby Riverfront Park. Jain said businesses owners in the area are excited about the news.

"We rely a whole lot on the events that happen in the downtown area because it's like a tourist spot. The more people that are here, it is better for the business," she said.

"I do get a lot of customers during Riverfest, so now if there are two separate events, definitely people will be coming more, and I think this will be very good for business."

A Section on 09/11/2015

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Archived Comments

  • hogfan2012
    September 11, 2015 at 10:51 a.m.

    Not a good idea. While I understand the expense of bringing a family to Riverfest, I don't believe I would bring my children to a "free" event for the family in that area of Little Rock. I hope they implement rules regarding no adults without children as well as no children without adults, etc. Also, are the volunteers (of which I am one) going to be expected to work both events? I don't have a beef about changing the date - Riverfest has always been a great outing for the family - I just don't think they should divide up the "family" vs "concert goers". I remember when Riverfest started at Murray Park with a few people sitting around playing guitars, people throwing Frisbees out on the grass and tobacco companies giving away free cigarettes.....

  • LevyRat
    September 11, 2015 at 11:50 a.m.

    While I hate change more than the average person, I don't think this is a total bad idea.

    Hopefully, the charge for the new "Springfest" will be low or free and will be restricted to families.

    Separate tickets for the new "Riverfest" events sounds like greed to me. You want me to pay to drink wine and beer on Friday night? Really?

    Since the main "musical act" on Sunday was the Arkansas Symphony and fireworks, does this mean I'll get to pay $30 or $40 for Saturday only?

  • purplebouquet
    September 11, 2015 at 12:14 p.m.

    I like this change. I stopped going to RF years ago because I didn't care for the music performances and wasn't willing to fork out $20/ticket for children's activities. It had also become way too crowded for my taste. I will give Springfest a try.

  • franglary
    September 11, 2015 at 5:24 p.m.

    Bad idea. You think the organizers would have at least had a forum or asked the people of LR what they preferred. Leave it to LR on how to continue screwing up a popular thing. Just give it to NLR.