This year’s Three Rivers Festival is the 50th annual edition, but executive director Jack Hammer has had to do the math over the phone with people that think he counted wrong.
“One guy went to the library and said, ‘It can’t be. If it started in ’69 and this is ’18, this is not 50 years.’ I said, ‘Just count on your fingers. It’s going to work out.’”
There are some special events for the 50th, but what Hammer really wants to celebrate this year is volunteerism.
“We have had 50 years of volunteers coming forward,” he said. “There is one guy who has come forward every year to help. He’s one of our honorary grand marshals.
“That’s what made it happen. It hasn’t been about executive directors.”
Of course, volunteers are as excited as anyone about the commemorative bells and whistles. So they probably wouldn’t begrudge us a preview of those bells and whistles in this article.
At the start, the festival will open with parade balloons. The Three Rivers Festival Parade has always had many who recommend it, but its list of assets hasn’t often included honest-to-giganticness parade balloons.
“There’s going to be a 45-foot tall Cookie Monster, a 35-foot-tall Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street, and some Angry Birds,” Hammer said. “Those are there because of Sweetwater. Because of Chuck and Lisa (Surack).”
And at the end, the festival this year will feature “multi-point fireworks.”
“Everything goes off the Power Center,” Hammer said. “And then in the last few minutes – that’s the Hanning & Bean Finale Spectacular – four other buildings come into play: The Lincoln Tower, the Ed Rousseau Building, the First Source Building, and what looks right now to be the East Tower of (Three Rivers Apartments).”
As part of the Headwaters Park Midway this year, there will be a “10-in-1” sideshow, which refers to 10 acts under one tent for one price.
“There will probably be a woman in it who turns into a spider,” Hammer said. “And a woman with no head. It’s as real as it was in the fifties.”
To clarify, Hammer is being tongue in cheek. The acts will opt for humor over gruesomeness.
There will be a family circus in the midway as well. For many people, “family circus” means a boy named Billy taking a maze-like route to the mailbox. But this family circus will consist of consanguineous tightrope walkers and trapeze artists.
A number of festival features from the days of yore will make a comeback including trivia night (with cash prizes), painted downtown windows, a pie-eating contest, a tug of war, and a Tootsie Roll hunt.
If you don’t recall the Tootsie Roll hunt, don’t worry. This event is a reimagined version of the peanut hunt.
“In this day and age,” Hammer said, “to have a peanut hunt, you’d have to have EpiPens.”
Children’s Fest will move from the campus of the university formerly known as IPFW to North Side High School, Hammer said. With the institution’s changeover from IPFW to Purdue Fort Wayne, there’s too much going on for the university to be able to host Children’s Fest this year.
New to Food Alley this year will be the root beer funnel cake.
“Apparently, it has done really great, especially down in Florida,” Hammer said. “They use funnel cake with a root beer batter and then it has a root beer cream on top of it with root beer barrels.”
There will be little surprises around every corner of the festival this year, Hammer said, including strolling performers.
“Those tiny surprises are important to us,” he said. “I can’t be Cedar Point, but we can do our best to make sure that trash is picked up and paths are clean, and we can offer the best adventures we can.”
Some of those adventures will be musical, of course. The Gin Blossoms, Candlebox, and Here Come the Mummies are scheduled to perform in Ruoff Festival Plaza, as is Tony Kishman, who played Paul McCartney on Broadway in Beatlemania in the 1970s.
Kishman’s vocal and physical resemblance to a middle-aged McCartney is uncanny. Kishman’s “Live and Let Die” tribute act will be the opening show in Ruoff Festival Plaza on Friday, July 13.
And on Friday, July 20, as part of an evening called Heart and Soul Affair, Morris Day & the Time will perform. Day was introduced to moviegoers and music lovers in the film Purple Rain where he made a big impression playing a heightened version of himself.
Day and Prince were rivals in the film but they were friends and collaborators in real life. In high school, they’d formed a band with André Cymone called Grand Central.
These days, Day’s backing band lacks many of the biggest stars from The Time’s heyday: For example, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Jesse Johnson, and Day’s onetime sidekick, Jerome Benton. But the band is as tight and funky as ever in smart phone concert videos on YouTube.
Day told the Oklahoman that he believes he is “one of the last of the real entertainers.”
“I’m going to bring people the opportunity to see one of the last of the real deal,” he said.
Day’s rider includes transport in a “high-end black-windowed SUV,” Hammer said.
The band will be put up in Hall’s Guesthouse, he said.
“They have suites,” Hammer said. “And they have a Prince suite. Morris will be staying in the Prince suite. It has original artwork and it’s all done in purple and lavender.”