Fun, food, foibles of River­fest re­mem­bered with af­fec­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - HE­LAINE WILLIAMS Let email run its course: hwilliams@arkansason­

Funny how even the wa­ter we grum­ble about is missed once the well con­vey­ing it has run dry.

And quite a few prover­bial wells are run­ning dry. We’re in an era where noth­ing can be taken for granted any­more. We re­al­ize too late that those things at which we’ve come to roll our eyes and turn up our noses rep­re­sented priv­i­leges. Mo­ments of our lives to be cel­e­brated (to bor­row that phrase from the old com­mer­cials for Gen­eral Foods In­ter­na­tional cof­fees). The things about which we wax nos­tal­gic, about which we re­gale our grand­chil­dren with tales.

The lat­est newly dry well? River­fest … which, it was re­cently an­nounced, has been sus­pended in­def­i­nitely af­ter 40 years be­cause its hur­dles, in­clud­ing sky­rock­et­ing per­former fees, com­pet­ing fes­ti­vals and un­co­op­er­a­tive weather, have got­ten too high to jump.

Hubby and I grum­bled about the fes­ti­val. We sat out the last hand­ful of its in­car­na­tions be­cause of ticket prices and per­form­ers that didn’t in­ter­est us, not to men­tion the age-re­lated wan­ing of our tol­er­ance for park­ing prob­lems and crowds.

Now here I am a tad mistyeyed as I ad­mit that River­fest, in its salad days, pro­vided one of the sound­tracks of my life. Not to men­tion sight­track. And smell­track. And touch­track. And def­i­nitely, def­i­nitely, taste­track.

When it comes to out-of­s­tate fes­ti­vals, I’ve been to only sev­eral — Africa in April in Mem­phis, Taste of Chicago in the early ’80s, Bum­ber­shoot in Seat­tle in 2003, the Mud­bug Mad­ness Fes­ti­val in Shreve­port in 2004, the French Quar­ter Fes­ti­val in New Or­leans in 2011 and, if this qual­i­fies, the fa­mously ill-fated Louisiana World Ex­po­si­tion, also held in the Big Easy, in 1984. Of course, it was River­fest, right here at home, that pro­vided the most ex­pe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries.

Just a few of those mem­o­ries:

■ The ini­tial ad­mis­sion price: Zero. My com­plain­ing when ad­mis­sion went up to a whop­ping $5 some years ago. (Shak­ing my dog­gone head now.)

■ Those event but­tons that served as passes. Ku­dos to the folks who thought to col­lect them.

■ The River­fest cups I did sort of col­lect with the ex-hubby — with whom I ap­par­ently left them.

■ The mon­u­men­tally bad de­ci­sion to ven­ture out only two weeks af­ter ma­jor surgery to see soul-and-blues­man Ty­rone Davis per­form dur­ing River­fest 1999.

■ See­ing the likes of James Brown; the Gap Band; Lake­side; Roberta Flack; Pe­abo Bryson; Chaka Khan; Kool & the Gang; Earth, Wind and Fire; and B.B. King, some of whose per­for­mances I re­viewed for this news­pa­per. ■ Get­ting nearly tram­pled af­ter try­ing to pitch fold­ing seats to see L.L. Cool J up close on the north-shore stage, and hav­ing to see him per­form from a dis­tance. (We were in the in­fancy of our “get­ting too old for this” stage at that point.)

■ Spend­ing time back­stage in 2008 with mem­bers of hiphop group Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment.

■ Those dog­gone River Money tick­ets. You al­ways had, like one left, so you had to go and buy more tick­ets to be able to re­deem the dang thing.

■ Go­ing to other, non-fes­ti­val events at which at­ten­dees were forced to ex­change money for tick­ets, then tick­ets for goods … and blam­ing River­fest.

■ That time or two of be­ing blessed with an ex­tra River Money ticket by some­one who was de­part­ing the fes­ti­val.

■ Two words: fun­nel cake. ■ Ten words: Those chicken ke­babs served at the Arkansas Philip­pine As­so­ci­a­tion booth. ■ Shop­ping for var­i­ous knick­knacks and gew­gaws in the ar­ti­san tents.

■ The two stints spent liv­ing only sev­eral blocks away from River­fest … a dou­ble-edged sword. The up­side: Be­ing able to walk to the fes­ti­val with­out wor­ry­ing about or pay­ing for park­ing, and be­ing able to see the fire­works from the apart­ment build­ing. The down­side: Wor­ry­ing about other fes­ti­val­go­ers park­ing in the lot des­ig­nated for ten­ants at our build­ing. The of­ten-hu­mor­ous side: The war whoops of fes­ti­val­go­ers as they de­parted the event at night, es­pe­cially af­ter the fire­works fi­nale.

■ The peo­ple-watch­ing, pe­riod. Al­ways, al­ways price­less.

So count me among those of­fer­ing up thanks to all River­fest movers and shak­ers for the en­ter­tain­ment feats they were able to pull off for as long as they were able to pull them off.

Y’all wouldn’t hap­pen to have a turkey leg left, would you?

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