Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Three Rivers Festival is back in full force

Art, food, music, rides at Headwaters Park for 53rd annual event

Three Rivers Festival Midway

Chris Hupe

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 29, 2022

This year marks a return to “normal” for Justin Shurley and all the volunteers who help make the Three Rivers Festival run each year. 

With many of the old favorites on the schedule, along with a few new events, it’s looking like this year is going to offer more than enough opportunities for people to have a great time at one of Indiana’s biggest events.

For the Community

After Shurley was named the Three Rivers Festival’s executive director a week-and-a-half before last year’s festival, he had no choice but to hit the ground running. In a Whatzup interview, Shurley said the most important thing he learned was how much the large group of devoted volunteers means to keeping it running on all cylinders. 

With an expected attendance approaching a half-million during the nine-day event, everything’s got a chance to break down at some point, Shurley said, but volunteers help minimize the problems by fixing things that are broken, finding potential issues before they become problems, setting up the different events, and refilling things when needed. 

“There’s a lot of volunteer hours that go into this festival, and lot of people that care a lot about this festival,” he said. “It truly is a festival for the community, put on by the community. We have a paid staff of two. Everything else is done by volunteers.”

Shurley said he is excited to have just about everything back to normal after the pandemic caused the festival to pivot many of the usual events last year following its 2020 cancellation. The downtown Midway will be in operation July 8-16, as will Junk Food Alley and the vendor Emporium. 

The parade is back in full force July 9, with an expected attendance of around 30,000, while Art in the Park takes place July 9-10. The always popular Waiter/Waitress Competition and a Drag Show will be presented July 11, with Trivia Night and the Bed Race set for July 13 and Children’s Fest on July 16. 

Fireworks will, of course, finish things off with a bang when they are shot off the top of the Indiana Michigan Power Center on July 16, beginning around 10 p.m.

Something For Everyone

There is never a shortage of opinions about the main stage entertainment that is booked to draw people downtown every night. 

Shurley is well aware of this fact, but he also realizes the festival can’t be everything to everyone all the time. 

This year, he and his staff tried hard to book a diverse list of national acts that he hopes will draw a whole range of demographics, but he wasn’t able to include everything he wanted.

“We talked about this being successful for the community,” he said. “So, when we were picking entertainment, we wanted to hit as many different genres as we could and as many different demographics as we could.”

In years past, the lineup has leaned a bit toward Baby Boomers, and they were still able to hit some of that older rock with Quiet Riot, Shurley said, “but we also get R&B with Ginuwine and we were able to hit a little bit of the younger demo with rockabilly group Hillbilly Casino that are from Nashville, but their lead singer is from here in Fort Wayne. I think bringing in someone like CeeLo Green hits a few demographics from his days with Goodie Mob to Gnarls Barkley, and even to all of the people who saw him as a judge on The Voice

“I don’t know what you’d call Here Come the Mummies, but they’ve been a regional and Fort Wayne favorite for a while, so we are glad to have them, too.  The only one we really missed out on was country, but (the acts offered) were just out of our price range this year.”

The national acts generate most of the entertainment conversation, but Shurley also wanted to make sure that the festival helped to highlight the tremendous talent base Fort Wayne has to offer. 

“We have a ton of local talent opening up for these national bands, hopefully giving them more exposure,” he said. “Bands like Los Galaxy, Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra, Cougar Hunter, Pete Dio and The Old & Dirty, U.R.B., Fatima Washington, and Unlikely Alibi. We were trying to make sure we get a chance to showcase the kind of talent we have here in Fort Wayne which, I think, is pretty impressive.” 

something new

This year’s festival won’t include the usual Star 88.3 Sunday night concert, as the radio station moved the event to the Sweetwater Performance Pavilion on July 24. So Shurley and company put together a local showcase to help highlight even more of what the community has to offer. 

School of Rock will be on stage to kick off the night on July 10, followed by five bands handpicked by a festival committee and some locals DJs. To go along, several local breweries will be to offering a relaxing night of homegrown entertainment and drink options. 

On Tuesday night, a new tradition, Beer, Bands and Bingo, will be introduced, featuring $2 beers and the sounds of Eliza Toth, intermixed with Bingo that will send a few players home with some great prizes including a top prize of $1,000 and another prize of four new tires. The Why Store will close out the night with an energetic set on the main stage.

With all of that still in front of him, Shurley said he and his staff are already looking toward next year.  He said he’d like to utilize some of Fort Wayne’s other downtown hot spots, like Promenade Park and The Landing, in coming years, as those are fairly walkable from one to another, while giving the festival more opportunities to partner with other organizations that may want to participate but have not yet had the chance. 

“These are all places people like going to anyway, so I think that in years to come it would be silly of us to not try to take advantage of them,” he said. “It’s sad to say, but I’ll be excited for this year to be over, because we’ve learned so much over the past month or two. That’s just going to make it run more smoothly next year.”

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