Estimates of the crowds last year ranged from 30,000 to 35,000 on Friday night and as high as 45,000 on Saturday night. Riverfest planners credited country music group ALABAMA, which performed Saturday night, with drawing concert-goers from as far away as Montana and South Dakota and from the New England states. Toby Keith and Tonya Watts, also performed Saturday. On Friday night, Kansas, Little River Band, Bo Diddley and Mark Dreyer performed. The popularity of this "Classic Rock" line-up guaranteed similar artists for 1999.
The Riverfest Festival has been a Gadsden tradition for over 14 years. Like most festivals, Riverfest began as a small one-day event showcasing local talent, arts & crafts and providing local residents with a day of fun and music. Over the years, the festival has grown into a regional musical festival, attracting people from all over the South. Dedicated fans from across the country have made their way to Gadsden, Alabama to see their favorite performers.
The size and location have also changed over the years. The first few festivals drew large crowds, but nothing compares to the amount of people that now attend. Over the last three years, Riverfest has attracted over 100,000 people and the attendance keeps growing. Locations have also changed. In the early days, the Riverfest stage was merely a flatbed truck trailer, today the stage is professionally constructed with stage lighting and state-of-the-art sound systems and speakers.
From the beginning, Riverfest has gathered some of the best musical performers around. Artist from the last two years have included: Sawyer Brown, B.J. Thomas, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Linda Davis, Travis Tritt, Holly Dunn, Collin Raye, Paul Overstreet, and more
"We also believe we made the right decision when we decided to book soft rock and classic rock stars for Friday night’s show," said William Peppenhorst, Vice-Chairman of the Chamber’s Riverfest Division. The Gadsden Area Chamber is responsible for Riverfest each year. "Country music is still very popular, but because the Baby Boomers and the generation just under them are now old enough to ‘remember when,’ the type of music listened to by those in their 40s, 50s, and 60s has made a strong comeback and is also very popular with the younger generations."
It is apparent to Chamber officials and others in the community that Riverfest, in addition to being a fun event, has become a source of pride for Gadsden and Etowah County. The streets of Albert Rains Boulevard, along the banks of the Coosa River near Moragne Park, are blocked off for two days of music and entertainment.
The Riverfest volunteers make the event happen. "The community has become involved as there are more than 300 volunteers who help with the event each year," Peppenhorst says. While the event is still community and family-oriented, it now attracts people from across the Southeast. Not only is the event geared to music, but to games and activities for children. Games and rides, along with activities like face painting and shows, all of which take place in Moragne Park add to the family atmosphere.
Of course, no festival would be complete without good food. For the last few years, food vendors have been selling everything from funnel cakes to gyros and have become a part of the variety that is Riverfest. Each year, along Riverfest’s main walk there are also craft vendors and artisans displaying their wares. This popular element keeps Riverfest going and provides a chance for the audience to browse during the day or between musical acts.
Riverfest’s success is due in equal parts to the dedication of its volunteers, the year-in-advance planning that must take place, sponsors who contribute money and resources to the festival, and, most importantly, the support of the citizens of the Gadsden area. Riverfest began as a celebration for the people and has remained that way. Riverfest 1999, the fourteenth anniversary of the festival should be a great one.