SALINA — In 1976, a street fair took place in downtown Salina as part of the area's Bicentennial celebration.
It was such a success that plans soon were underway to make it an annual event with a new name: the Smoky Hill River Festival.
The new festival was organized and supervised by Salina Arts & Humanities at Oakdale Park in Central Salina, and as attendance grew each year, new elements were added to the mixture of art, music and food — from an opening Festival Jam where 16 bands play 15-minute sets for four hours to a "First Treasures" tent where children have the opportunity to be introduced to art.
More than 40 years later, the festival is still going strong. It takes place the second weekend of June, Thursday through Sunday, uses 2,000 volunteers and is attended by thousands of visitors who invest more than $3.5 million dollars into the Salina economy annually.
Admission to the festival is a $10 button purchased in advance at multiple Salina locations and in surrounding cities, or $15 at the gate. Children ages 11 and younger are admitted free.
Brad Anderson, executive director of Salina Arts & Humanities, said the festival is many things — art, music, children's activities, culinary delights — but most of all it is a "community celebration."
"It's a chance to get together as a community," he said. "It's full of energy, full of surprises, and a wonderful way for the community to connect in exciting ways."
Highlights of the Smoky Hill River Festival include the following:
• More than 20 professional touring groups, from blues to folk to World music, perform on the main Eric Stein Stage and the Stage II tent. The Bravo Stage showcases emerging local and regional musicians, poets and spoken word artists, while Arty's Stage presents an entertaining line-up of children and family performers. Thursday night's Festival jam attracts more than 10,000 people who listen to 16 local and regional bands performing blues, rock, hip hop, country, folk and everything in-between in 15 minutes sets.
• The Fine Arts, Crafts and Demonstration areas highlight more than 130 exhibitors who interact with patrons and educate them about their artistic processes through demonstrations and interactive lessons. There also are about 20 art installations scattered throughout the park for festival-goers to enjoy and interact with.
• Artyopolis offers a children's paradise with hands-on arts and crafts, games, face painting and Legos to spark their creativity and experimentation. Game Street features "pay to play" games on a streetscape made to look like a traditional downtown Main Street. The "First Treasures" tent provides an opportunity for young art patrons ages 4 to 13 to choose and purchase their own art "treasures' contributed by participating artists at child affordable prices ranging from $1 to $5.
• Food row contains more than 30 vendors who offer such delectable delights as gourmet burgers, Indian tacos, turkey legs, kettle corn, Asian noodles, stuffed cucumbers, street tacos, jumbo corndogs, cheesecake on a stick and homemade ice cream.