Yankton’s Riverboat Days roared back to life in a big way this past weekend as the festival returned from a one-year hiatus to attract some of the biggest crowds it has likely ever drawn.
Blessed with great weather and possibly aided by a general urge for a return to summertime normalcy, the festival produced a terrific outcome that should ease any doubts organizers had about how Riverboat Days would draw after missing a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was enough of a concern that, in the wake of the 2020 cancellation, organizers were already talking last August about coming back in 2021 in a very big way — to make a “splash,” as one board member put it.
That led to an idea that turned out to be a master stroke: to up the ante with the festival’s musical acts. The centerpiece of this was landing country music star Jo Dee Messina as the headlining act on Friday night. This resulted in perhaps the biggest Friday night crowd ever for Riverboat Days. Messina’s show, as well as the performance by opening act Bad Neighbor, drew rave reviews from attendees and certainly created the splash that organizers were hoping to make.
In a way, that made Saturday — especially Saturday night — the bigger test. After a headlining concert and fireworks on Friday, could Saturday’s events still have the drawing power they’ve had in the past? As it turned out, Saturday afternoon was extremely busy, and there was a fine crowd on hand Saturday night for main-stage musical performances by Ledfoot and Sweet Siren. Overall, Riverboat Days organizers had to be very satisfied with that.
(Meanwhile, Yankton’s Extreme Bull Riding event, which was also making a comeback after a year off, enjoyed a huge crowd of its own Saturday. Although it’s not technically part of Riverboat Days, the fact is that, for some people, the bull-riding performance is as much a part of the annual festival as fireworks and the beer tent. Its success mirrored the success of Riverboat Days.)
All in all, Riverboat Days made a spectacular return, which is great for the event and for Yankton. Hopefully, organizers will use this year as a template for a very bright future.
However, Yankton, which is used to seeing Riverboat Days as its summer finale, can’t rest yet, as another event on the radar offers considerable promise.
Next month, Yankton will play host to the 2021 Hyundai World Archery Championships and the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final, as well as World Archery’s biannual congress — the biggest world archery events this community has ever hosted. The World Cup Final, which has rarely been held in the U.S., will draw Olympic talent to town, with championship festivities slated for Riverside Park along with vendors and music — headlined by one-time Riverboat Days staple Brule — in what National Field Archery Association (NFAA) officials said will be like a “mini Riverboat Days.” It will be a one-time extravaganza of the highest magnitude for this community.
So, even with a successful Riverboat Days now in the rear-view mirror, more big moments are in store for Yankton in the coming weeks.