Photos: Beginnings of Riverfest
We were at Murray Park for the first 3 years of Riverfest (1978-1981)
Photo of Riverfest in 1983
After moving from Murray Park, the festival utilized Markham (in front of Robinson Auditorium) for one year before moving into Riverfront Park.
Photo of Riverfest 1986
Riverfront Park (west of Junction Bridge)
Photo of Riverfest today – entertaining over 250,000 people
Riverfest is a celebration of visual and performing arts that is held annually over Memorial Day weekend on the banks of the Arkansas River in Little Rock. Riverfest is the largest single event in the state of Arkansas with a rich 38-year tradition. Approximately 240,000 festival-goers attended the 2015 event, with an estimated economic impact of $33 million on the community.
Riverfest, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has enjoyed tremendous success for the last 37 consecutive years and has been a leader in the redevelopment of downtown Little Rock. Riverfest has donated over $1,000,000 to various projects in the riverfront and downtown areas, including our latest contribution of $150,000 to the First Security Ampitheater. Riverfest is an incredible, family-affordable entertainment value that delivers impact to its sponsors and festival-goers.
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 2002-2008. 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.
Today, Riverfest’s Board of Directors include standing positions from the Junior League of Little Rock, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, the City of Little Rock Department of Parks and Recreation, the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Partnership, and the North Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission.There is also an Executive Committee, fifteen at-large positions, and four ex-officio positions. In addition to the Executive Director, Riverfest has four other full and part-time staff members working year-round to effectively plan and produce the festival and an outstanding volunteer festival committee of 170.
The mission of Riverfest is to produce a quality, recreational, cultural, educational, family-oriented festival for the benefit of and in partnership with the community. Riverfest and quality will always be synonymous. From offering an outstanding children’s area where every activity is free to the participant, to the International Village where festival-goers can travel the world, to numerous special attractions, events and family oriented activities, there is something for everyone.
Riverfest is unmatched in entertainment. A wide variety of entertainment has always been presented. Festival-goers have been treated to some of the best-known names in music: Darius Rucker, Rodney Atkins, Peter Frampton, Lupe Fiasco, Kelly Rowland, Daughtry, Sugar Ray, Blackstone Cherry, Bush, Florida Georgia Line, Dierks Bentley, Ana Sia, Chicago, Salt-N-Pepa, CeeLo Green, The Fray, Easton Corbin, Lee Brice, Buckcherry, Three Days Grace, Jamey Johnson, Grandtheft, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Snoop Dog, Boyz II Men, Neon Trees, Third Eye Blind, Staind, MuteMath, Gov’t, Mule, B.O.B., Little Big Town, Joe Walsh, Al Green, ZZ Top, B.B. King, Blues Traveler, Brad Paisley, , Jason Aldean, Heart, Hinder, Cheap Trick, Collective Soul, Diamond Rio, Don McLean, Everclear, Hank Williams, Jr., Hootie & the Blowfish, James Brown, Lifehouse, Live, Los Lobos, Loverboy, Mark Wills, Arrested Development, Morris Day and the Time, Better Than Ezra, Blake Shelton, Chaka Khan, Huey Lewis & the News, Nickel Creek, Pat Green, REO Speedwagon, George Clinton & The P-Funk Allstars, Rick James, Run DMC, Gym Class Heroes, Dwight Yoakam, Keb Mo, Styx, Switchfoot, The Black Crowes, LL Cool J, Pat Benatar, Pat Green, The Doobie Brothers, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, The Gap Band, Robert Earl Keen, The Neville Brothers, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Ruben Studdard, The Wallflowers, Carrie Underwood, Train, Trapt, Miranda Lambert, Uncle Kracker, Earth Wind & Fire, Heart, The Steve Miller Band, REO Speedwagon, Ludacris, Jason Aldean, David Nail, Nelly, Widespread Panic, Barenaked Ladies & Blue October. The 2013 line-up is shaping up to be one of the best yet!
Sponsors are the life-blood of Riverfest and help turn the planning into reality. From large corporate donors who sponsor the fireworks, to private individuals who sponsor craft activities in the children’s area, to local police, fire, and city agencies who donate many man-hours, Riverfest enjoys the support of the entire community. One dollar of every ticket sold goes back into the community.
Finally, and most important, no description of Riverfest would be complete without recognizing the thousands of volunteers who staff each festival, and the volunteers who work all year long to plan and administer Riverfest. From all over the community, people donate their time and talents to present Riverfest – a fun, exciting, wonderful gift for all to enjoy.
Riverfest would like to thank this tremendous group of volunteer committee members who work tirelessly year-round planning this great event. The festival would not be possible without all of your hard work and dedication!
MERCHANT/ VENDOR RELATIONS
PARKS/NORTH LITTLE ROCK
Bobby Bemberg, Lydia Bemberg, Marsha Clevenger, Kathi Stoyanov
FLOWING ON THE RIVER
The Riverfest Board is an advisory group made of of business and community leaders from the Little Rock and North Little Rock areas. They work closely with the Riverfest, Inc. staff to oversee the business and management of the festival.
Aaron Reed, CPA
LITTLE ROCK CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU
LR REGIONAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
NORTH LITTLE ROCK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
PAST BOARD PRESIDENT
Kirsta Kirksey Thomas
MEMBERS AT LARGE
Kelley Bass, Mike Castleberry, Brent Morgan, Art Kellam, Cam Deacon, Chris Thomas, Keith Nigro, Michael Hickerson, Daniel Robinson, Bill Cobb, Courtney Swindler, Jordan Johnson, Charlie Porter, Patrick Wilson