Little Rock’s Riverfest Reconsiders Future After Low Turnout

Little Rock, Ark.’s long-running Riverfest may be in doubt after turnout didn’t match expectations for the May 25-26 event that featured Peter Frampton, Young The Giant, Young Thug, Highly Suspect, LANY, Jamey Johnson and Kip Moore
The director of the event says the latest iteration didn’t live up to crowd forecasts and that the company needs to regroup before it makes a decision on the event’s future.
“It was not what we expected,” event director Jack Daniels told the Associated Press of the event that takes place along the Arkansas River. “We’re really grateful for the folks that did come out.” 
Memphis-based Universal Fairs had hoped that as many as 10,000 people would turn out each day.
“We were somewhat close to that but didn’t hit the mark,” he said, adding that official figures hadn’t been tallied.
Daniels said the future of Riverfest will be determined once Universal Fairs regroups.
“From a nuts-and-bolts standpoint … I think for us to really continue to have (Riverfest), we need more engagement and involvement from the community,” Daniels said.
He attributed the lower turnout in part to having a shorter time frame to book musicians. Organizers announced the festival’s return in February after buying rights to the brand, giving them only a few months to secure acts for Memorial Day weekend, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
After posting a $300,000 net loss, Riverfest Inc.’s board of directors voted in July to dissolve the nonprofit organization and appoint a committee to wind down operations of the initial festival, saying that it was just too difficult to compete with the for-profit events as a nonprofit. At its height, organizers said the festival was attracting 250,000 attendees with an economic impact of $33 million.
Organizers cited Pemberton, Karoondinha, Gathering of the Vibes, BayFest and Wakarusa as examples of recent closures in the competitive climate.
Mark Lovell, CEO of Universal Fairs, bought the brand and its online presence in December. 
The event submitted boxoffice figures to Pollstar most recently in 2014, with 10,000 tickets sold (100 percent capacity) to see artists including Hank Williams Jr., The Wallflowers, Jamey Johnson, Diarrhea Planet, Salt N Pepa, Cee-Lo Green and many others May 23. 
Last year’s eclectic lineup had Billy Currington, Colt Ford,  Cody Jinks, Wiz Khalifa, Cage The Elephant and many others June 2-4. 
“Things like this usually require 12 months of people working it, working deals,” he reportedly said.
“We presented a really good show,” Daniels said. “The patrons that came out really liked our new theme of Riverfest and how we approached (the event).”
Gretchen Hall, president and CEO for the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the organization was “very pleased” with the festival’s new management and the adjustments made to help local businesses.
“I think (organizers) are committed to growing the new RiverFest brand, and we look forward to working with them again next year,” Hall said in statement reported by the Associated Press. 
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said in a statement that while organizers dealt with a “very short amount of time to prepare,” he understood “the importance of not letting a year pass since the announcement that Riverfest would be closing.”
“As a first effort under new management, I think it was a success and gives plenty of room to grow relative to attendance,” Stodola said.
Daniels did not give a time estimate for when the company will make a decision on whether to continue the event. The firm is requesting input from the community in an effort to “provide the kind of show that Little Rock and surrounding areas are looking for,” he said.
Libby Doss Lloyd, communications manager for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the group hasn’t heard anything about Universal Fairs “contemplating a return.”