In 1978 downtown Wilmington reached a low point, turning into a retail ghost town. In 1979 a group of Wilmingtonians interested in historic downtown and the arts decided a facelift was needed. A cultural festival was set up to draw residents of ILM back to the area: Riverfest. This year celebrates the its 35th anniversary, from October 4th through 6th. It remains Wilmington’s official kickoff to the fall season, attracting over 150,000 visitors over three days.
“Over the years it has grown so much by adding more exciting events, such as wrestlers, stand-up paddleboarding, fireworks, and a wine race just to name a few,” Riverfest president Donna Worrell says “We have more than doubled the arts and craft and food vendors.”
In the same ideal, the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack show, a recent addition to the festival, returns for its second year. “We try to stay current with new events for the enjoyment of the visitors,” Worrell notes.
“This year, on our 35th anniversary, Riverfest consists of 20-plus committees, a budget of $90,000, over 200 craft vendors, 35 concessions booths, entertainment on two different stages, Saturday night fireworks, Run the River 8K Race, the Great Wine Waiter’s Race, a ‘KidsZone’ with free activities for children, and much more,” Russ Deats, festival chairman, details.
Family entertainment will make up half a mile of concessions and attractions. “This results in an economic impact on the surrounding community estimated at over $3 million,” Deats explains. An increase in activity in downtown and on Front Street has resulted in more shops opening, restaurants, river cruisers, galleries, The River Walk and Riverfront Park—a vision Riverfest founders held in 1979 is coming to fruition. More so, it’s surpassing goals by continuing to give back to community. The Marine Biology Department at the Cape Fear Community College is supported by Riverfest, and since 1995 the event has donated over $149,000 to the CFCC Foundation.
“Funds have been used for scholarships, equipment, and special projects,” Deats states. In 2008, an endowed scholarship was established. To date, $44,000 of the donated funds have been designated for the Riverfest/Ava M. Hobbs Endowed Scholarship.
This year’s festivities will get underway on October 4th. Live music entertainment, demonstrations, and sports happenings, amongst other attractions, are ready to be enjoyed. Here’s a look at the weekend ahead; for more information, visit www.wilmingtonriverfest.com.
Friday, October 4th
The Garden Party will open Riverfest on October 4th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Greenfield Lake’s Rotary Garden (1960 Amphitheater Dr.). Tickets are $50 each, available at www.etix.com. Parking and shuttle services located at Legion Stadium (102 N. 3rd St.).
Everybody will be dancin’ in the streets starting at 6 p.m. at Riverfront Park (5 N. Water St.) in the beer garden, which will feature three bands: Catch Harmonic Content until 7 p.m., Loose Jets from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and The Cut from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Saturday, October 5th
Stand-up Paddle Board Competition
Viewable along the riverfront, the stand-up paddle board competition will begin at the river docks at The George, making its way to the Battleship NC and then the Hilton Wilmington Riverside. Registration takes place at 8:30 a.m. on site with a fee of $35. Divisions are for men, women 14ft, 12’6, unlimited and kids, in addition to some fun races. Start time begins at 10 a.m. and a light lunch will be provided by The George. Visit the website to download the entry form: www.wilmingtonriverfest.com/index.html.
Vendors, Exhibits and Displays
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, as well as from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, visitors can peruse various arts and crafts vendors along Water Street and the kids’ zone in the Cotton Exchange Parking Lot. Be sure to stop by the Adventure Zone in the CFCC Riverside lot for rides and demonstrations, too.
Classic Car Show
The Sun Coast Cruisers Classic Car Show revs up Market Street on Saturday from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. and again on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cape Fear Chapter Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA), founded in 1932, is running this exhibit and is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of automobiles as close to showroom conditions as possible.
Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show
Returning for another year, guests can see chainsaw-carving, axe-throwing, and log-rolling amongst other lumberjack entertainment. Saturday shows take place at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4p.m. Sunday offers showings at 12.30 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Mainstage Live Music
Live performances will be going on throughout the festival at the Riverfront Park Mainstage. Saturday’s live concert series kicks off at 12 p.m., carrying on ‘til 11 p.m. with acts such as Massive Grass, Dylan Holton, Brent Stimmell, Soul to Sea, and Bob Edens and the Dixie Driver Band. Sunday’s lineup consists of Sean Guerrero, followed by Ricky Jarman, and then the Myrtle Grove Praise Band.
UPWA Wrestlers Show
Matches take place at Cape Fear Community College in the East Parking Lot. Saturday show times are at noon, 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday times are at noon and 3 p.m. Viewers also have the opportunity to meet the wrestlers and get autographs.
Pirates Children Treasure Hunt
From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., young pirates can go on their very own hunt for treasure! Maps can be picked up at 1 p.m. at Network Real Estate, 106 N. Water Street.
Lighting up the sky and exploding with color, the fireworks will commence Saturday evening at 9 p.m. Come early for a good spot.
Sunday, October 6th
Run the River 8k Race
The Wilmington Road Runners Club is one of the oldest operating running clubs in North Carolina, established in 1978. The club has over 250 members running this race every year from speedy racers to occasional joggers. The race takes place Sunday with registration at 6.30 a.m to 7.45 a.m in the CFCC parking lot. Race begins at 8 a.m. Application forms are also available online.
The Great Waiters Wine Race
Bottoms up! For all wine lovers who want to join in or watch Wilmington’s top waiters compete in an obstacle course, head to Princess and Water streets at 2 p.m. An entry form is available online with a fee of $80. Award for first place is $300 with a trophy cup, followed by second place with $200 and third place receiving $100. Trophies are also awarded for Best Dressed and Most Spirited.