WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Wichita’s biggest party is returning this year in full force. Just in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Riverfest organizers say people are thrilled, and now that the lineup has dropped, the excitement is really sinking in.

“I was like, ‘Wichita River Festival, what have you done?’ I’m so excited,” said Kathy Deane.

Anyone who knows Deane knows one thing for sure.

“I’m such a huge Willie Nelson fan that when people see Willie Nelson, all they do is think of me,” she explained.

On Wednesday morning, Deane’s phone blew up with messages. Willie Nelson was announced as a headliner for the 50th annual Riverfest.

“All day long, people coming to buy buttons saying they are just thrilled that this is such a segue back into normal life and getting to celebrate with their entire community for a whole week this time,” said Jenny Venn Wichita Festivals Marketing and Communications Director.

The full nine-day festival is back after two years of canceled and altered plans. Along with that brings its usual economic boost.

“The city brings in approximately $20-30 million every year based upon this festival,” Venn said. “People are staying close to downtown in and around Wichita. We have so many people coming in from out of town, and realistically everyone in the city this is a week they are out and about in a way they are not normally.”

Along with that boost comes reunions.

“I think there’s some pent-up emotion in the community for getting out and seeing people,” said Tim Norton, board member for Wichita Festivals.

Norton was a past admiral in 2018. He says the return of Riverfest holds a deeper meaning that stretches generations.

“It’s important for our community to have that linkage because we forget who we are sometimes, and you know people move away, and a lot of people come back for River festival just to celebrate where they grew up and what’s important about living in Wichita,” he said.

Organizers expect the turnout to be just as high as in 2019, with hundreds and thousands coming out.
Possibly even setting a record with the demand for normalcy after the last two years.