Summers are pretty busy in downtown Fort Wayne thanks in no small part to Headwaters Park which makes it possible for the area to celebrate with festivals all summer long.
In case you need reminding, Three Rivers Festival began in 1969, and all of the festivals that have come along since then have learned from the best.
And in fact, the Summer of ’69 is the theme for this year’s festival, and that theme will be apparent at the Opening Day Parade as well as throughout the week.
Jack Hammer, executive director of Three Rivers Festival, is happy to celebrate a special time in our shared history.
Peace and Love
“There were so many significant things happening in the Summer of ’69,” he said. “We had the moon landing, and all of that history shows us about the social changes that came with that summer. Our heroes then were astronauts, not baseball players. We had peace and love and music with Woodstock, and we had the technology of the moon landing. And we were all proud of being Americans. We’re trying to encompass as many people as we can.”
Many of the “heritage events” that people have come to expect will be returning. One notable absence is the Raft Race which is not taking place due to the construction around the Riverfront development and the upcoming opening of Promenade Park.
“We hope that we can bring back the Raft Race next year,” Hammer said. “But the river excursions are back, and on those rides, you’ll be able to see the new park before it opens up on August 10. That’s always a popular tour, and now people can see what’s happening before the park is open to the public.”
Among popular returning events are the Waiter & Waitress contest on Monday, Art in the Park, the Bed Race on Wednesday, and the Emporium for some shopping. Part of the Art in the Park, held at Freimann Square the first weekend of the festival, is the Chalk Walk and HeART of the City which returns for its third time and features the work of local artists.
Of course, Junk Food Alley will be there to feed any imaginable craving as usual, and Hammer hints at some new treats coming our way this year. (How does a lemon poppy funnel cake grab ya?)
Rides get an upgrade
Those who enjoy rides will be happy to know that they’re not only back but better than ever.
“We’ve had the same carnival rides for many years, but this year we’re working with Kissel Entertainment,” Hammer said. “We knew we needed to increase the experience with the rides, and we’re really excited about the new rides that are coming this year. Thanks to the energy of this company, we’re going to be able to do things we haven’t done before.
“To celebrate the opening of the festival, we’re offering free rides on Friday, July 12, from 5 to 6 p.m. so people should expect long lines. On our final Friday, July 19, we’re devoting two hours, from 3 to 5 p.m., to a sensory-friendly experience thanks to the cooperation of the people at Kissel. We’ll slow the speed down, turn off the music and the flashing lights, and provide a nice family experience for people with special needs.”
Those who want to partake in the food and festivities downtown can get there easily thanks to the free Lunchtime Trolley which provides rides from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Friday, July 12, and Monday through Friday of the following week. The trolley’s route will take it to Junk Food Alley, Main at Calhoun, Berry at Harrison, Harrison at Washington, Jefferson at Parkview Field, Lincoln Financial at Douglas, One Summit Square, and Berry at Calhoun.
Another great food destination is International Village, one of the events from years ago that Hammer brought back when he became executive director.
“After nine years, it’s gotten easier to put together International Village,” Hammer said. “I’m really proud of it. You have people who may have a language barrier, but they all live here in Fort Wayne. We’ve been able to create friendships, and it helps us to be a better community. It’s food and songs and pretty dresses and dancers, but it serves a far greater purpose.”
Lining up Party music
Music has always been a huge draw for Three Rivers Festival. In past years some of the favorite legacy bands would come to “the beer tent” (as it was popularly called) to play during the festival, but thanks to many competing venues (the Foellinger and The Clyde, to name just two) the approach to music at the festival has changed somewhat.
“The Clyde can see a band they want to book and find out when they’re going to be in the area and book them at that time,” Hammer said. “I don’t have that luxury because my dates are all set. But now I look at it as if I’m planning a party. We’re looking to have some music that we can enjoy and still keep our prices down so more people can come down and have some fun and dance and just enjoy themselves.”
This year’s lineup starts on Friday night, July 12, before the Opening Day Parade has officially kicked off the Three Rivers Festival. Boogie Wonder Band, a band with 22 years of experience in getting people out of their chairs and on the dance floor, headlines while local favorites Good Night Gracie will serve as opening act.
The rest of the week’s lineup includes:
July 13: Here Come the Mummies
July 14: The Star Music Stage featuring Unspoken, We are Messengers, Austin French, Britt Nicole, and The Voices of Unity
July 16: The Band Brother
July 18: The Heart and Soul Affair featuring Motown Sounds of Touch and Chris Worth
July 19: Pop Evil and Downstait
July 20: Back to the ’90s Tour featuring Young MC, Rob Base, C&C Music Factory featuring Freedom Williams, and the Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra
As always the week of fun culminates in a fireworks display which this year Hammer promises to be the best one yet. He’s excited for what the festival has to offer and hopes one day to offer something outside this one magical week in July.
“I’m overall thrilled with every day of what we have coming up at the festival this year,” he said. “I still hope to add more and even hope that one day we can add a holiday parade to our offerings which would be one more event to be appreciated in our community. And you’ve gotta love that.”