Riverfest reveals concert headliner, plans for more fireworks. But buttons will go up.

The Wichita Riverfest is a little more than two months away, and organizers at Wichita Festivals Inc. are ready to share a few teasers about what they have planned for the 52nd annual event, set for May 31-June 8.

Among them: the festival is ready to announce one of the big-name musicians who’s signed on to perform — multi-instrumentalist Hunter Hayes. It’s also sharing an explosive bit of fireworks news: A third show, designed to attract weeknight crowds, will be added to this year’s schedule.

It’s also sharing the on-sale date for its buttons — which serve as admission to all concerts and events at the nine-day event — as well as button prices for this year: They’re going up from $15 to $20 for adults and from $5 to $10 for children. It’s the second button price bump since 2022, when adult buttons jumped from $10 to $15.

One of the reasons for the button price increase, said Nancy Duling, the festival’s president and CEO, has become a common chorus. Everything just costs more, and that’s true for the festival as well. Paying for big-name acts is more costly than it was even a couple of years ago.

Wichita Riverfest buttons will cost $20 for adults, $10 for children this year. They go on sale April 15.
Wichita Riverfest buttons will cost $20 for adults, $10 for children this year. They go on sale April 15.

“I have to tell you, the entertainment cost is what’s really affecting our budget,” she said. “. . .After COVID, all of the artists now are like three times the price.”

This year, the festival has secured a performance by Hayes, who has been nominated for five Grammy awards. He’s best known for songs like “Wanted” and “I Want Crazy.” He has performed as an opening act for Taylor Swift and also competed on the third season of “The Masked Singer.” Hays, a Louisiana native, will headline the festival on its first Saturday, June 1.

The festival also plans to announce another big-name concert in the next week and will reveal the entire lineup on April 1, Duling said.

Buttons go on sale April 15 at wichitariverfest.com and also will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at the festival offices, 444 E. William. They’ll be for sale in local QuikTrip stores starting May 3.

Unlike in previous years, the festival won’t have an early-bird discount in 2024. The new prices are firm no matter when they’re purchased.

The Wichita Riverfest is adding a third fireworks show to the 2024 schedule.
The Wichita Riverfest is adding a third fireworks show to the 2024 schedule.

The festival is attempting to add value to the button with at least 10 new events, details of which will be shared as the event gets closer, Duling said.

One is a new weeknight fireworks show, which Fidelity Bank agreed to sponsor. It’ll be launched on Tuesday, June 4.

“The city loves fireworks, and we were trying to be creative on how we can boost our attendance downtown,” Duling said. “And we came up with the idea that we needed to add a midweek fireworks show.”

That Tuesday night also will include the festival’s annual military salute. The fireworks will fly after that evening’s concert — at around 9:45 p.m. The festival will still put on both its opening and closing night fireworks shows, too.

Duling said she did not relish having to raise button prices this year, as festival organizers know all too well how Wichita tends to respond to that news. Buttons have steadily increased in price over the years. They were $1 until 1990, when they went up to $2, and there wasn’t another increase until 2000, when they went up to $3.

In 2006, organizers said that increased entertainment costs were forcing them to bump them to $5. They doubled to $10 in 2015, then went from $10 to $15 in 2022.

In addition to rising costs, Duling said, the festival is also dealing with a drop off in sponsorships. Although many of the festival’s longtime sponsors have remained, they aren’t able to give the amounts they once could.

“I would say that we have not recovered from COVID,” Duling said of the festival’s bottom line. “So 2019 is the glorious year that we all want to be like, and we just have not gotten back to that.”

Duling said that although she knows it’s frustrating to have one more thing get more expensive, people should break the cost down by day and recognize the value they’re getting. Divided by the festival’s nine days, the button cost is $2.22 a day.

Even Salina’s Smoky Hill River Festival, which happens in June every year and lasts only four days, requires an admission wristband that’s $15 in advance and $20 at the door, she said.

It’s all about people calculating the value they’re actually getting.

“For the price of a cup of coffee a day, you can see a different concert every night,” said Angela Breer, a festival consultant and the owner of Dot Strategies.

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