Wilmington, N.C.: Flash back 35 years to October 4-6, 1979 when a group of local citizens interested in the arts and Wilmington’s riverfront staged its first Riverfest, a free cultural street festival. With four concessions, trolley rides, and fireworks, Riverfest was a success and became an annual event. Today’s Riverfest remains true to its roots as a family-friendly, cultural festival. It now boasts a half-mile of free entertainment with more than 200 craft vendors, concessions, continuous entertainment, fireworks, a Kidz Zone, exhibitions, and special events.
With the Cape Fear River as its focus, Riverfest captures the river’s heritage, culture, and natural beauty. According to festival organizers, this year’s theme—“Celebrating 35 Years on the River”—focuses on the festival’s milestone anniversary. Many festival-goers who attended Riverfest years ago with their parents now enjoy the annual event with their own children. Riverfest board member Ann Kirby is excited about being part of the 35th anniversary. She has attended all 34 festivals and says “they seem to get better every year.”
Riverfest’s 35th anniversary celebration begins on Friday, October 4 with a Garden Party (11am-3pm) at Greenfield Lake’s Rotary Garden, home of the world’s largest rotary wheel. Garden Party tickets ($50 each) are available online at www.etix.com and parking/shuttle service will be at Legion Stadium. At 6pm, a street dance jumpstarts the night festivities at Wilmington’s Riverfront Park in the Beer Garden, featuring live dance music by three rock bands. On Saturday and Sunday, a street fair winds its way through Wilmington’s historic river district. The area’s heritage is demonstrated by special exhibits, as well as more than 200 vendors selling art and handmade crafts and over 30 food vendors serving festival edibles. Continuous live entertainment is another hallmark of Riverfest with a variety of performances that underscore the influence of arts and culture on the Cape Fear lifestyle. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the Main Stage at Riverfront Park and the Beer Garden stage showcase live bands. The Kid Zone stage also showcases family entertainment.
Other Saturday events include: the Sun Coast Cruisers Classic Car Show (Sat., 10am-6pm, Market Street), Professional Wrestling matches (12pm, 3:30pm, 6pm), and a Standup Paddleboard contest (10am). Returning this year is the Paul Bunyan Lumber Jack Show (11am, 2pm, 4pm) with axe-throwing, chainsaw-carving, log-rolling and more. New this year is Gem Mining, and organizers are hoping to welcome Dragon Boat Races, pending team registrations. At 6pm on Saturday, the Beer Garden music stage welcomes ska Reggae and Country bands. At 9:05pm a dazzling display of fireworks will light the sky above and reflect upon the river below. Sunday’s special events include the 23rd Run the River 8K Race (race at 8am; registration 7am), the Great Waiter’s Wine Race (2pm), Antique Car Show (10:30am-3pm, Market Street); Professional Wrestling matches (12pm & 3pm), and the Paul Bunyan Lumber Jack Show (12:30pm & 4pm).
As always, kids rule at Riverfest with the ever-popular Kidz Zone at the Cotton Exchange, with free family activities such as face/hair painting, balloon art, games, amusements, arts/crafts, clowns, rides, obstacle course, mascots, live entertainment, and more. Older kids will enjoy the Adventure Zone. Affordable event parking is available in public parking decks located at 2nd & Princess streets; Front & Market streets; and at 2nd & Chestnut streets.
Annual events like Riverfest afford visitors a great opportunity to experience a region’s traditions. According to event organizers, an estimated 200,000 gather at Riverfest to celebrate the heritage, beauty, and culture of the Cape Fear River. Riverfest continues its commitment to Cape Fear Community College with an endowment that helps support its Marine Technology Program studies and environmental efforts. For more information about Riverfest 2013, October 4-6, visit www.wilmingtonriverfest.com. For visitor information on Wilmington, N.C.’s Historic River District and the Island Beaches of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach,Wrightsville Beach, visit www.GoWilmingtonAndBeaches.com,www.visitcarolinabeachnc.com, www.visitkurebeachnc.com, andwww.visitwrightsvillebeachnc.com.