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Fingers crossed, hoping for a RiverFest revival

BY JOSIE JONES | APRIL 22, 2010 7:30 AM

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The University of Iowa’s RiverFest hasn’t had the best of luck in delivering a successful, fun festival in recent years. Last year, the annual event was moved to downtown Iowa City because of flood-recovery work in and around the IMU, but when it began raining, the festival was canceled. In 2008, it was so cold it nearly snowed during the RiverFest weekend.

With their fingers crossed, the RiverFest 2010 organizers plan to bring life back to the festival. Their budget increased this year to more than $20,000, up from $14,000 in 2009. And Josh Messer, a member of the music-selection team, predicts success.

“This festival is going to be the highlight of the year for the university,” said Messer, 19. “For what we’ve been given to put on the show we’re about to put on, it’s going to be huge, and I think people are going to be really pleasantly surprised.”

The festival, which kicked off Wednesday night with swing dancing in the IMU, continues at 4 p.m. today with RiverFeast in downtown Iowa City. A diverse range of bands, DJs, and various events will last through April 25 in Hubbard Park and the River Terrace. The event will wind up with a performance by platinum-selling artist Matt Nathanson at 7:30 p.m. April 25 in the IMU second-floor ballroom.

The history of the festival is as long and intriguing as the Iowa River along which it is celebrated. In 1978, the River City Spring Festival began as a spring music event in Hubbard Park that highlighted the end of the year and the graduating seniors. The festival was renamed RiverFest to remind students and community members that the Iowa River is an important part of daily life on campus.

Initially, the biggest draw to the event was the beer tent. But when the UI became a dry campus in the ’80s, much of the atmosphere surrounding the event changed, executive director Molly Golemo said.

“Ever since the ’80s, it’s been kind of a struggle to separate RiverFest from alcohol,” said Golemo, 21. “Now we’re just in a struggle of how do we get people down to a festival that’s completely dry. It’s kind of like an alcohol alternative in a way.”

This year, the festival offers a multitude of nonalcoholic activities not quite six weeks before the 21-ordinance goes into effect. With the increase in budget from last year, the festival has managed to turn from a two-day festival to a five-day event.

For the first time in 32 years, the festival will feature a DJ booth set up on one of the four stages. UI sophomore Messer proposed the idea because he feels DJs will add to an important element.

“A lot of people tend to show up for bands they’ve already heard because they want to hear a particular song,” he said. “People are more likely to show up for DJs expecting to hear something new or something out of the ordinary.”

Messer, who is also a freelance DJ when he’s not working with the festival, said anytime DJs get the opportunity to perform, they typically jump at it regardless of the pay because the DJ scene in Iowa is small. Because DJs are cheaper to book than bands, the booth is an economically but still fun option, he said.

Eight DJ acts — ranging from solo to trio performances — will perform from 7-11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the River Terrace.

As a form of entertainment to accompany the music, carnival rides and games will return. Bumper cars, a Monkey Motion Bungee Jump, and an obstacle course are the rides offered. Spin Art, a dunk tank, and a big tic-tac-toe are a few of the games available. Wristbands will cost $2 and allow for unlimited use on the rides and games.

In some ways, the festival could be considered a carnival. But Golemo, a UI senior, disagrees.

“[RiverFest is} a music festival that there’s things to do during it,” she said. “We’re more concerned on the type of music we have.”

With more than 40 bands playing at the festival, Golemo feels the organization got lucky with the lineup. In fact, the organizers booked bands in January that are now getting signed to big record labels. History on Repeat, formerly known as Here’s My Chance, is one example. The rock/pop punk band from Des Moines will perform at 4 p.m. Saturday.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Girl Repelent, a local band from Regina Junior Senior High School. The five boys, ranging from 7th to 9th grade, cover songs by Green Day, Good Charlotte, and AC/DC. Girl Repelent will perform at 1 p.m. April 25.

The festival’s executive board — 15 UI students — hopes to interest as many people as possible with the festival, which is why it booked a magician, various dance performances, and a tae kwon do demonstration. Golemo said she wants people to be happy, entertained, and know the reason RiverFest started.

“We’re just a celebration for students,” she said. “It gives them something to remember the university by.”

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