Even when it’s not being held, Yankton’s Riverboat Days made a little bit of news last weekend.
As you know, the annual August festival and a tent pole of Yankton’s community calendar was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the kind of crowds it draws — and considering the fact that it would have occurred just as this region is experiencing a startling spike in COVID infections — it was a wise decision. (The decision was also spurred by daunting scheduling uncertainties with vendors and entertainment.)
In a story published in Saturday’s Press & Dakotan, Riverboat Days co-chair Randy Oliver said the festival’s board is already planning for its return next year and has higher aspirations in terms of entertainment.
“We’re aiming at attempting to get bigger and better bands,” he said. “Financially, that’s a huge hill to climb, but we want to come back and make a statement. We want to come back and make a splash.”
This touches on two points:
• First, referring specifically to Riverboat Days, this is enticing news. Frankly, one of the things that the festival has always struggled with, at least from our vantage point, is its headline musical entertainment. While this hasn’t seemed to hurt the festival’s attendance numbers, it has arguably kept Riverboat Days from further elevating its status (although it is already formidable).
This wasn’t always the case, however. In the late 1980s, Riverboat Days offered headliners like Jerry Jeff Walker and B.J. Thomas that brought more attention to the then-new event. (If you don’t recognize those names, please search the Internet for more background.) But rain forced the cancellation of a headline performance in the early 1990s — not unlike what happened to Rockin’ Ribfest a few years ago — and the headliner concept was essentially dropped after that. (The Grammy-winning Tex-Mex polka band Brave Combo played here a couple of times in the early 2000s — once as a headliner — but that was one exception to the trend.)
The desire to bolster the musical entertainment opens some new doors. It would roughly emulate what Rockin’ Ribfest seemed to be on the verge of becoming when it was anchored briefly at Riverside Park just a few years back.
Granted, this step up won’t be easy. As Riverboat Days co-chair John Kraft noted, “In order to get some of the bigger entertainment acts, we’re looking for sponsorships. We’re out talking to some businesses. It’s a difficult time for them to talk about sponsorships and donations, but we’re trying to broach that subject with a few businesses to see if we can hone in some sponsorships to help with some of the additional costs you incur when you book a bigger band.”
Nevertheless, it’s a promising development, and this process should be fun to watch.
• The other point here is that the Riverboat Days board is already planning how it will come back from this COVID-19 hiatus — an affliction that many events have endured this year. By aiming to return with a “splash,” organizers want to come back with more than an encore of the past years.
When many other events do return, some will certainly rely on a return to normal as the main attraction, which would be a safe approach in this climate. A bit of normalcy would be quite welcome, actually.
Coming back with something bigger and bolder would carry some risks, as mentioned here, but it might also produce some major rewards in that very same climate.
Riverboat Days is already looking to the future and is hoping to make some noise when that future arrives, which is compelling. We wish it well, for this could be an intriguing development to watch as we head into 2021.