BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The 2nd annual RiverFest summer celebration kicked off Thursday night with gorgeous weather and family fun.
Temperatures hovered in the mid to lower 70s and some heavy downpours stayed just far enough north to allow familes from around southeast Iowa to pepper the lawn at Riverview Park for discounted tickets for carnival rides, carnival food fare, and some good music.
Event co-founder Charles Craft said attendance at about 7:30 p.m. was very good.
“We’ve gotta be about 20 times where we were last year on Thursday,” he said. “This is just a fantastic turnout. I couldn’t be happier.”
Festival goers echoed the sentiment.
Lloyd Elmore of Mt. Pleasant was standing by shooting cellphone videos as his son Nolan went upside down and in circles on the carnival rides.
“We’re having a really nice time,” Elmore said. “It’s good that they keep bringing it back.”
As carnival goers worked their way around all the rides with their discounted ride bands, most of the food vendors, including Fort Madison’s own Fork-It, had at least two people in line most of the evening.
But the rides were the focus of the early evening before the music started in the Entertainment Tent.
Pebbles Schneider of Fort Madison was with her grandson working their way through the carnival games and winning big prizes.
“I’m glad to see that this is here for the little kids,” Scheider said. “We plan on keep coming back, if they keep putting it on.”
Beer (water) pong was also on tap behind the entertainment tent. Teams went through a double elimination tournament tossing ping-pong balls into half-filled plastic keg cups and the first team to land a ball in all 10 cups won. Prizes including a trip to Las Vegas or a cash payout and coolers were awarded to the winners which weren’t determined as of publication time.
Bob Smith, originally of Fort Madison, said he likes the smaller feel of the festival, but still gets all the big festival elements.
“You’ve got a great view of the river here and you get that “beer tent” feel but still get good music and all the fun of the bigger festivals,” Smith said. “I’ll keep coming back because I just love this small town feel.”
Doug Krogmeier, chairman of the RiverFest Games which begin Saturday morning, said there is still some room left for people to register for the events on Saturday.
The RiverFest 5K run, which is being organized by Baxter Sports Complex Director Wes Holtkamp, begins with registration from 6:45 to 7:30 a.m. and race time at 8 a.m. Entry fee on race day is $35.
Following the 5K is a sand volleyball tournament with registration beginning at 8:30. Double elimination tournament play begins at 9 a.m. and the fee is $50 for a team of six. A bags or “cornhole” tournament starts with registration at 9 a.m. and two-person double elimination team play begins at 9:30. Following the start of the bags tournament a first time event for the Games will be Kanjam. Registration for that tournament starts at 9:30 with two-person double elimination play beginning at 10 a.m.
Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters kicked off the entertainment on Thursday night to a full Entertainment Tent. Friday will feature Bluzillion at 6 p.m. on the Main Stage and the Ozone Ramblers will take over at 8 p.m. with a teen dance on the grounds starting at 9 p.m. The Natu Band will finish up the night’s music with an 11 to 2 a.m. show in the Entertainment Tent.
Saturday will feature local talent Trystan Grisham on the Main Stage at 6 p.m. followed by national country recording artist Buddy Jewell at 8 p.m. and nationally acclaimed, and former FMHS graduate Shawn Moss, will bring his Garth Brooks cover act to the Main Stage at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are still available at the gate for all Friday and Saturday acts.
The Ozone Ramblers will offer up a pro-jam on Sunday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.