Wichita Riverfest skipping traditional Twilight pops concert, tweaking fireworks finale

The 51st annual Wichita Riverfest will open for its nine-day run on Friday with several of the event’s most treasured traditions: the Sundown Parade that travels through downtown. The opening night concert, this year with reggae/hip-hop star Shaggy as the headliner. And the opening-night fireworks show, which will conclude the evening with high-flying, crowd-pleasing pyrotechnics.

But one opening-night event will be missing from the festival schedule for the first time since 1974: The Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s Twilight Pops Concert, famous for its rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” featuring live cannon fire.

The symphony’s absence from the schedule this year was a business decision, said Nancy Duling, the festival’s president and CEO. The concert, which costs the festival $35,000 each year, has not had a sponsor since 2015. And with overall sponsorship down by 20% this year, Duling said, she couldn’t justify the cost.

Duling said she worked with Symphony CEO Don Reinhold, who identified three potential pops concert sponsors, but all declined. The symphony had a deadline for an answer, she said, and she couldn’t get it to come together in time.

“We had a timeline,” she said. “And so we had to move on.”

Duling said that the pops concert’s absence isn’t necessarily permanent. She’d still love to bring it back if she can find a sponsor.

Reinhold said he also hopes the concert returns. Putting it on is costly, though, and he must cover music rental, rehearsal time, travel costs, the salary for a stage manager and more.

“It is an expensive proposition to hire a band of sixty-some professional musicians,” he said “I hope people miss the traditional opening night, and if they care enough, they should make their feelings known to the festival organizers.”

Changes to final fireworks show

Another change to the festival, which runs Friday through June 10: The closing-night fireworks show will look a bit different.

Though the opening-night show on Friday, which will last for about six minutes, will feature the traditional high-flying artillery shells festivalgoers are accustomed to, the closing-night show on Saturday, June 10, will offer something new.

Because of construction along McLean in recent years, the footprint for shooting off fireworks has gotten smaller, and fireworks companies can no longer shoot off the large aerial shells they used to. And because more construction along McLean is expected, festival organizers know they are eventually going to have to come up with a new plan.

They asked different fireworks companies for ideas, and they even were treated to some live fireworks demos back in November. They then asked their longtime fireworks provider, Western Enterprises of Carrier, Oklahoma, to try a test run with a new approach.

The Saturday show will be a low- to mid-level pyrotechnic performance that will be staged along the bike path on the west bank of the river between the Douglas Avenue and Lewis Street bridges. Though the fireworks won’t attain the elevation of the festival’s traditional fireworks shows, the launch site will be more spread out between the bridges. At times during the show, the fireworks will be firing along an area nearly 1,000 feet in length, said Jim Burnett, president of Western Enterprises.

“In other words, the pyrotechnic performance will be like a wide-angle lens or more panoramic than previously,” Burnett said. “And a benefit of this allows a fireworks company to integrate firing specific types of pyrotechnics at angles, interweaving together from various positions along the river.

The effect, he promised, is “cool stuff.”

What that means for firework viewing public is that Saturday-night fireworks won’t be visible from far away. And people won’t be able to sit on the river’s west bank to watch them. The east bank, Duling said, will be the perfect viewing spot this year. The festival also will leave the Douglas Avenue and Lewis Street bridges open rather than close them to foot traffic as they have in previous years.

The finale show will last for nearly 13 minutes.

“This type of pyrotechnic performance is similar to what you might see in a competition fireworks event,” Burnett said. “The fireworks are spread out along a wide area and the pyrotechnics are fired from various positions to where they can even interplay with each other.”

Fiesta Del Rio was a big hit in 2022 after festival organizers moved it to Kennedy Plaza and made it an all-day event.
Fiesta Del Rio was a big hit in 2022 after festival organizers moved it to Kennedy Plaza and made it an all-day event.

Returning hits

Besides those changes, Duling said, the festival is keeping the setup mostly the same as last year.

The headlining musical acts — which include The Gin Blossoms on June 7, Parmalee on June 10, and more — will all appear on Kennedy Plaza rather than being distributed around different stages. The Downtown Get Down block party, which was a big success when it was introduced last year, will return on Sunday and will fill the hours between 3 and 9 p.m. with family-friendly activities, including a celebrity egg toss, a funnel cake eating contest, yard games and more.

And the festival also is high on an event that drew massive crowds to downtown Wichita last year on the festival’s second Friday, which this year falls on June 9. Fiesta Del Rio, which in previous years had been a one-night Riverfest concert with Norteno bands, last year became an all-day party with Mexican food for sale, a Mexican “mercado” with Hispanic vendors, and a night full of popular Norteno bands on the main stage at Kennedy Plaza rather than at an alternate stage near the Wichita WaterWalk.

A Fiesta Del Rio committee, which included members of the local Hispanic community, helped shape and promote the party, and a crowd of about 15,000 people turned out. Photos from Fiesta Del Rio showed crowds packed shoulder-to-shoulder throughout Kennedy Plaza.

Jen Remsberg, the festival’s new director of marketing and communications, said that she thinks the surge in popularity of the event can be attributed not only to the switch of location but also to the dedication of the organizers.

“They are passionate and they are behind it,” she said. “They want this for their community. Their community loves it.”

She also said that the festival can tell by counting how many VIP tickets have been sold that Fiesta Del Rio’s lineup is the most in-demand of the concerts on the festival schedule. The event, which happens from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., will feature a long list of performers including headliner Edén Muñoz. The bill also includes Los De La Sierra, Pepe Y Los Diamantes De Ojinaga, Mariachi America, Los Humildes Hermanos Ayala and DJ Tynno Morales.

What’s new

Festival organizers have a few new schedule additions they’re excited about, and the River Run also will look a bit different this year.

River Run switch up: River Runners this year can choose to participate in a 10k or 5K run, in the traditional Tot Trot, or in a 5K Wheelchair race. This year, organizers replaced the traditional two-mile race with a one-mile Family Fun Run. “We were just trying to think of new ways to get people involved, and, I’m sorry, a one-mile is easier to accomplish,” Duling said with a laugh. Register for Saturday’s race at

New bike race: The festival this year has added a new event for bikers called the Riverfest Gravel Grinder. It happens on June 10 and will feature a 20-mile ride or 40-mile race on a variety of riding surfaces, including dirt roads. Both routes start and end at race sponsor REI, 2774 N. Greenwich. Registration is open at

Park and Rec fun: The festival this year has partnered with the Wichita Park and Recreation Department to put on several participatory events. One is the Riverfest Sand Volleyball Tournament, which starts at 8 a.m. June 10 and runs through June 11 at O.J. Watson Park. Also: a new Riverfest Pickleball “Dink & Drink” Tournament, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. June 10 at Ralph Wulz Riverside Tennis Center, is open to beginning and intermediate players. Each registered participant gets two drinks. Get more details and registration info at


Button prices did not change this year, although last year’s $5 hike to the adult buttons helped offset a drop in 2022 attendance, Duling said. Attendance was down 25% from 2019, which festival organizers consider to be the last normal festival before COVID-19 hit. And 2022 button sales were down 20% from 2019. But the price increase helped bring in more money, she said.

The button serves as admission to all Riverfest events, including the concerts. They’re $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12, free for ages 5 and under. Buttons are available at Riverfest entrance points or at local QuikTrip stores.

Kids Corner will return to the Wichita Riverfest lineup and happen daily a A. Price Woodard Park.
Kids Corner will return to the Wichita Riverfest lineup and happen daily a A. Price Woodard Park.

Popular returning events

Sundown Parade: The kickoff parade starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday and moves through downtown Wichita

Riverfest Artfest pop Up Market: Runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Century II’s Exhibition Hall and includes lots of arts and shopping vendors.

River Run: Lasts from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday

Downtown Get Down: This block party-style event lasts from 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday on Douglas between Waco and Main

Cardboard Regatta: Teams will build a river-worthy vessel in 90 minutes or fewer using nothing but cardboard, duct tape, pool noodles and a box cutter then float them on the river. It last from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Register at

Classic Car Show: This event happens from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 10 on Douglas between Water and Main

Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Social: Free ice cream starting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 7, at Kennedy Plaza

Cajun Food Fest: The annual event lasts from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Kennedy Plaza. Cajun meals are $15

Nightly concerts: The shows include well-known headliners and take place every evening on Kennedy Plaza outside Century II. See the full lineup at

Hot Air Balloons: The festival will put on its traditional hot air balloon glow at 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Launches are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Kids Corner: With bouncy houses and fun for younger festivalgoers, Kids Corner runs daily through the festival at A. Price Woodard Park and includes daily activities. Hours vary from day to day. Check out the schedule at

Food court: The food vendors will be set up on the east side of Century II, and food must be purchased with tickets, sold onsite. Vendors also will be set up on Douglas during concerts. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, people can enter the food court without a button. A food court menu can be found at

Riverfest Carnival: This popular annual event is in the parking lot just southeast of the Hyatt Regency

Wagonmaster River Tours: These cruises on the Arkansas River depart from under the Douglas Avenue Bridge on the north side of Douglas, on the east side of the river. They’re free with a button from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and June 5-9, from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and from noon to 5:30 p.m. June 10.