RiverFest becoming part of Tri-State’s summer


Watching thousands of people crowd around the majestic riverfront that serves as the front yard to Fort Madison’s downtown district was something to see last week.

I live about four blocks from RiverFest and decided I’d not fight the crowds and parking and just ride my bike down the hill, shoot across the tracks, and ride along the river walkway up to the metal grate that gatekeeps all but committee members.

I’m not on the committee. I did race Doug Krogmeier in a Paul Bunyon-esque task for driving fence poles into the field east of the Riverview Park drive for about two hours on Saturday morning. We put ’em all in and then roped off the parking. I had a bottle of water, grabbed my bike, and headed home.

I couldn’t type for three days. My hands felt like someone else’s.

I did it last year, too, but I don’t remember it hurting like that next day. But it’s a very, very miniscule morsel of what needs to be done to pull off the event that Charles and Jenny Craft and company have done the past three years.

I’d say it’s pretty good odds that Charles was home at a desk looking over numbers and envisioning an even bigger event next year.

The city gave him $10K to market the event. The largest amount I’ve ever seen the city’s tourism board give to a local event. That money came back and then some. I think Pen City Current shot about 4,000 pictures of the event. We sponsored the Main Stage, and helped with some outside-the-box marketing and pre-event coverage, but this Craft guy and his band of volunteers have got something here.

I’d list them because I know most, but I would forget someone and we just don’t want to do that disservice to those people that pick off parts of this project. I’ve gotten to know Charles very well and am very impressed with his promotional knowledge. He knows who to talk to when and what to ask.

He understands that relationships are needed to build this type of event and works hard to protect them. I personally witnessed a customer come down to the festival grounds on Tuesday and pretty much demand a ticket. Charles was there and told the gentleman that he could still pick up tickets at Hy-Vee for presale prices. The man didn’t want to hear that and told Charles, “I guess you really don’t want to sell a ticket to me then.”

I was in retail for close to 20 years and I can unequivocally tell you the customer is not always right. But he does pay the bills. Charles told the man, “We’re all about customer service here, so just hold on a second.” The man stopped and mumbled something. Charles got on his phone, arranged for a computer to be brought down to the ticket booth that afternoon and sold the man a ticket.

If that’s not the guy you want in charge of bringing more than 10,000 people into your town over four days, I’m not sure who would be.

Eight to 10 more county veterans will get to go on the Honor Flight to Washington D.C. because RiverFest arranged for a Sunday charity breakfast to raise money for the events. Charles is a military man in his own right with the U.S. Army. Those things are near and dear to his heart.

Dragon Boat races were back on the river for the first time in more than a decade and throngs were on hand to watch the races. That will be bigger next year as I heard people ribbing others about why they didn’t have a team this year. Several people I talked to weren’t even from the United States, but loved the event and want to return next year to be a part again.

RiverFest Games gave people a chance to compete for cash prizes and local bands were able to show off their skills to late night crowds looking for somewhere to keep the party going.

Nationally recognized bands including Pop Evil, who, hand to God, I’d never heard of when Charles whispered it to me at the reveal party just seconds before announcing it to the crowd. “Who?”

That group is blowing up music outlets across the country. People reminisced and danced to favorites of their prime including FireHouse, Saving Abel, and the thirty-somethings got Hinder. When Leigh Kakaty literally walked out onto the crowd to finish Pop Evil’s final song of the night, we knew something crazy had just happened.

Word’s gettin’ out. RiverFest is quickly gaining notoriety for its national acts, its seamless security, fair pricing, and charitable functionality.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Nice work Mr. and Mrs. Craft and Co.

I turned 50 on Wednesday. Rode my bike around town, got a free haircut because I was being grumpy about another year in the books, and then had family and friends over and realized it ain’t so bad….but that’s Beside the Point.

About Chuck Vandenberg 5476 Articles
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