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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR. -  RiverFest organizers held a press conference on Wednesday and announced the lineup of musicians for the festival, also touching upon changes to the festival and ticket prices. Little Rock resident Levelle Davison, a contestant on The Voice television program and himself a performer at the festival, introduced the musical lineup.  The press conference was held at the RiverFest Pavilion in downtown Little Rock.

The director of Little Rock’s revived RiverFest says the latest iteration didn’t live up to crowd forecasts and the company needs to regroup before making a decision on the event's future.

“It was not what we expected,” event director Jack Daniels said Tuesday of the three-day festival, which was held Friday through Sunday along the Arkansas River. “We’re really grateful for the folks that did come out.”

Memphis-based Universal Fairs had hoped that as many as 10,000 people would turn out each day, but the crowd fell short of that projection, Daniels said.

“We were somewhat close to that but didn’t hit the mark,” he said, adding that official figures hadn’t been tallied.

Daniels said the future of RiverFest will be determined once Universal Fairs regroups to “see what makes sense."

“From a nuts and bolts standpoint … I think for us to really continue to have [RiverFest], we need more engagement and involvement from the community," Daniels said.

He attributed the lower turnout — to a degree — to having a shorter time frame to book musicians. Organizers announced the festival’s return in February after buying rights to the brand, giving them only a few months to secure acts for Memorial Day weekend.

“Things like this usually require 12 months of people working it, working deals,” he said.

Still, Daniels said he was “extremely pleased” with Saturday night’s lineup of musical acts — including Young Thug, Highly Suspect, LANY and Kip Moore — and crowd turnout.

Gallery: RiverFest 2018

The event director also pointed to a Sunday night performance from headliner Peter Frampton, who was added to the lineup in late April, as a high point of this year’s event.

“We presented a really good show. The patrons that came out really liked our new theme of RiverFest and how we approached [the event],” Daniels said.

New to RiverFest this year was the creation of a Ford Family Fun Zone as well as a reduction of the festival's "footprint," allowing for more commerce to flow through downtown Little Rock's River Market District.

Gretchen Hall, president and CEO for the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the organization was "very pleased" with the festival's new management and the adjustments made to help local businesses.

"I think [organizers] are committed to growing the new 'RiverFest' brand and we look forward to working with them again next year,” her statement reads.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said that while organizers were dealt with a "very short amount of time to prepare," he understood "the importance of not letting a year pass since the announcement that Riverfest would be closing."

"As a first effort under new management, I think it was a success that gives plenty of room to grow relative to attendance," Stodola said.

Daniels did not give a time estimate for when the company will make a decision on whether to continue the event. The firm is requesting input from the community in an effort to "provide the kind of show that Little Rock and surrounding areas are looking for," he said.

Libby Doss Lloyd, communications manager for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted that the group hasn't heard anything about Universal Fairs "contemplating a return."

In 2017, the three-day 40th anniversary event — then held the first weekend in June — brought in 125,000 people, according to attendance estimates. The festival's turnout reached 140,000 attendees in 2016.

After posting a $300,000 net loss, Riverfest Inc.’s board of directors voted in July to dissolve the nonprofit organization and appoint a committee to wind down operations of the initial festival.

Mark Lovell, CEO of Universal Fairs, bought the brand and its online presence in December. The new organizers planned to spend around $2 million operationally in the Little Rock area this year.

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.


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Archived Comments

  • Foghorn
    May 29, 2018 at 3:38 p.m.

    I would hope they give it another year given the short runway they had this year. I heard grumbling from some involved with the prior team in charge who were intent on failure under the new leadership. I think that’s small thinking and unfortunate for LR and the event as a whole.

  • TheBatt
    May 29, 2018 at 5:16 p.m.

    Maybe someone ought to take a look back towards the roots of Riverfest- especially the first few years after Riverfront Amphitheater was built. The whole feelmofnthe event was different then. As it grew, the character changed. Add in the growing crime rate and we see a parallel with the Arkansas State Fair. People (especially families) don't want to put themselves in danger.

  • DoWhat
    May 29, 2018 at 5:35 p.m.

    Only a fool can see what is wrong......over priced tickets, over priced drinks and beer and lackluster talent. It has been heading that way for years......the solution has been......keep going up on everything to make it better....

  • rubythecat96gmailcom
    May 29, 2018 at 6:04 p.m.

    come on... out of all the beautiful lakes and rivers we have in Arkansas why would anyone be caught dead in Little rock during a three day holiday ?

  • GeneralMac
    May 29, 2018 at 6:18 p.m.

    ( 9th paragraph) ......

    "Young Thug"

    What an appropriate name to be performing in Little Rock.
    Seems we read about " young thugs" every day in this very newspaper.

  • mikelybrandllccom
    May 29, 2018 at 6:27 p.m.

    Never been...always on Ouachita that weekend.

  • NoUserName
    May 29, 2018 at 6:30 p.m.

    I'm not really the target audience, but it seemed to me that the advertising was significantly less this year. Or maybe I just wasn't paying as much attention.

  • Foghorn
    May 29, 2018 at 6:32 p.m.

    Not everyone has a 3day holiday. Some have no choice but to stick around and take advantage of what LR has to offer. I don’t understand how people expect to have top shelf entertainment for bottom shelf prices. Previous leadership couldn’t make a go of it even with a non-profit mindset. New leadership expects a profit, and rightfully so. Is any event at Verizon free? No. Why do so many expect Riverfest be a largely free event? It’s completely unrealistic.

  • NoUserName
    May 29, 2018 at 8:13 p.m.

    Free? No. But you CAN price yourself out of your audience. Interestingly, the Riverfest website currently states the following for multi AND single day passes: "****DUE TO OVERWHELMING ONLINE TICKET SALES, TICKETS ARE NOW ONLY AVAILABLE AT THE GATE FOR PURCHASE!*****"
    Which creates a bit of a conundrum when it is followed by the following: "Multi-day passes are only available for purchase online."

  • hogfan2012
    May 30, 2018 at 9:07 a.m.

    I went on Friday night to see the "Boots & Roots" Tour of Collin Raye, Aaron Tippin, and Sammy Kershaw - FANTASTIC show. It was really heartwarming to see all of the 20-something "kids" singing every word to their songs. I talked with a few of them and they said it was the music that their Mom and Dad listened to when they were little. It appeared the vendor turnout was minimal. The carnival ride section had grown a lot. I think it was an excellent job for the limited time in planning. I have never missed a Riverfest, even when it started at Murray Park and I did not buy my tickets in advance due to the delayed announcement of entertainers. I hope they try again and get to work on it right away - I believe it can work. As for crime - Friday night I felt very safe.