The Riverfest team say it will take a week or more to finalize the monetary results of this year’s festival, and to report how many admissions were paid at the advance rate of $37.50 (plus a $6.13 ticketing fee), but it’s estimated that around 70,000 people were there for each of the festival’s two days. It’s worth noting that in prior years, the festival has been held over three days and wasn’t yet split into two parts; this year, it was divided into Riverfest and Springfest, the family-centered festival in April that drew a crowd of around 20,000.
After a rainy forecast that never materialized, Riverfest director DeAnna Korte announced on Sunday that the regular gate admission of $50 would be reduced to $40 for the remainder of the festival. (All-inclusive VIP tickets to Riverfest were offered for $250 each, and the VIP pavilion was full both days. Again, no word yet on how many VIPs paid full price for that privilege.)
If the crowd for the Flaming Lips show was any indication, Little Rock was ready for a Riverfest lineup that included a few acts that were, shall we say, just a bit left of center. The band performed a seamless set that made up for any absent hits with pure spectacle. Appearing in front of a curtain of lights that made the stage’s background look like it was made of oversized rainbow fringe, Wayne Coyne, the band’s frontman, guitarist, and songwriter, floated above the crowd in a giant transparent bubble during a cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Enormous multicolored balloons bounced above the fray. Figures adorned with giant suns for heads swayed at the stage’s edge, then switched out the suns for frog heads. (This all actually happened, right? Right?)
Then, to much applause, this gem made an appearance:
St. Paul and the Broken Bones did a masterful set that left me wishing I’d seen them in a more intimate setting while I had the chance, even though they seemed perfectly at home in front of a larger crowd. Lead vocalist Paul Janeway is basically his own hype man, and the band’s tight horn trio accented his powerful vocals with precise, polished staccato harmonies. The gorgeous, wooden-cased Rhodes organ was put to great use, especially on the band’s cover of The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy,” and, as if embracing a comparison that seemed too natural to ignore, Janeway ripped out a soulful rendition of a Van Morrison tune, “I’ve Been Working.”
George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic strutted onto the stage with all the funky bravado their set deserved, and although I can’t say I was there to see ZZ Ward, her fanbase was wildly enthusiastic (as was country star Kelsea Ballerini’s, by all accounts) as Ward led them in what seemed for all the world like a pretty intense workout.
A crowd gathered in the middle of the sidewalk between the two stages well before the Chris Stapleton show started and, although it initially seemed as if Stapleton was atop a platform for the slew of selfies he graciously indulged, he is actually just exceptionally tall.
Perhaps the only murmurs more prevalent than the rumor that Stapleton would appear with Justin Timberlake (as he did on the Country Music awards last winter) were ones regarding the origin and composition of a peculiar confection from the concession stands, a crunchy fried cylinder shaped like an 18-or-so-inch long “J,” which looked like a churro but was actually an ice cream cone.
Oh, and lest we forget, the visual panorama was saturated with fringe. The degree to which fringe was involved in the wardrobes of Riverfest attendees can absolutely not be understated. Fringe dangled from boots. It swayed on the undersides of purses, midriff tank tops and hats. It rode alongside the outer edges of knee-high Roman sandals. If you are a Little Rock clothier whose portfolio of provisions includes anything with fringe, know that your work was well-represented.