Riverfest – established in 1983 to create and hold a family festival with “something for everyone”. Held annually in Riverside Park over the 4th of July weekend. Riverside should encourage citizens for the La Crosse area to celebrate the holiday at home and invite visitors from outside the area to join us for fireworks, entertainment, food and festivities and to encourage La Crosse area citizens to realize the beauty of this area with the parks and rivers.
Many times during La Crosse’s history, celebrations were held in La Crosse at the site of Riverside Park, even back to the very early days when fur traders and indians met to trade and celebrate.
In 1979 and 1980 , a Free Family Frolic was held in the event park as a promotion for the D.L.B.A. and Radisson Hotel. The 3 day event included buggy rides, clowns and entertainment. The La Crosse Jaycees had for several years set off the fireworks over the Mississippi River from Pettibone Park while spectators watched from Riverside Park and the bluffs surrounding La Crosse.
The present “Riverfest” began as an outgrowth of all these previous festivals. It started as a function of the La Crosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. In December of 1982, President Phil Quillin suggested to the chairman of the Tourism Committee, Mike Stout, that we establish a summer celebration around the 4th of July to keep people in the area; stay home to celebate the 4th.
Preliminary talks and ideas came from Mike Stout, Jack Clappier, Gary Roberts, Jim Burrows, Larry Quillin, and Mary Waldsmith Bott. Suggestions included continuing the fireworks providing entertainment and beer tent and somehow came up with the funding.
In January of 1983, a letter was sent to organizations, businesses and individuals by Mike Stout setting up a meeting at the Radisson Hotel on February 8th. Surprisingly, about 50 people showed up at the meeting. Some suggestions from the meeting included a polka band event, selling Uncle Sam hats, holding a flea market and an art show. At later meetings it was decided to sell buttons, beer, and soft drinks to fund the the festival. Gary Roberts suggested the name “Riverfest”, which was unanimously endorsed. A food fair was also planned to help defray costs. It was also decided to seek donations from area businesses.
In March of 1983, Dick Williams was asked to be the coordinator of Riverfest. Dick’s past experience with Oktoberfest and his organizational ability made him the perfect choice. An executive committee was established consisting of Mike Stout, Gary Roberts, Larry Quillin, Jeff Voss, Dick Williams, Jim Burrows, Jeff Francois, and Jack Clappier.