By: Anastasia Penchi

If you spend the Fourth of July in the La Crosse area, it’s important to schedule a visit to Riverfest.


The annual festival, known for its food, fireworks and family entertainment, is based at Riverside Park in downtown La Crosse, and is held along the banks of the picturesque Mississippi and La Crosse Rivers.

Established in 1983, organizers wanted a family festival with “something for everyone” so locals could celebrate the Fourth of July holiday at home and also invite visitors from outside the area to join them.

This year, festivities begin on June 30 and conclude with the annual Kwik Trip Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza. A good time will surely be had by all.

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you go:


Buy your buttons early

Admission buttons are $7 if you pick them up before the festival starts. Otherwise, they are $10 a pop if you buy them during the event (children 12 and under attend for free). If you need four buttons and buy them ahead of time, that’s a savings of $12. That’s got to be enough for an order of cheese curds, right? Besides, buttons are necessary for the food tent, the beer tent and all the music and entertainment offered north of State Street, so you really should get one. If money is too tight, stick with the food options and entertainment south of State Street, where a button is not required. Buttons can be easily purchased ahead of time at any area Kwik Trip or Festival Foods, or at Explore La Crosse, Altra Federal Credit Union, Anytime Fitness or Coney Island. If that’s not convenient enough, buy a button online and pick it up at the main gate when you get there. Seriously, how much easier can it get?


Plan your meals ahead of time

One of the perks of working at a downtown business during Riverfest is spending your lunch hour there and eating all the scrumptious food. Nowadays, there is even a “food finder” on the event Web site so you can decide what you want to eat ahead of time. Like any festival, some things change from year-to-year and other things stay the same. Yes, they still have Rocky’s cheese curds. No, they no longer have the Raddison blackened fish sandwiches, but maybe you will like a Pogy’s turkey guac wrap even better? Timmers Meat will offer bacon on a stick. And isn’t everything better with bacon?


You are getting very sleepy  

Riverfest wants to be a family festival, and the amount of kid-friendly acts they schedule is proof of that. Go watch people get hypnotized. Or go to a magic show. Go see the dancers, the strongmen and the jump-ropers. There is music and tigers and inflatables, oh my. And it wouldn’t be Riverfest without local clown, Kenny Ahearn, who got his start more than 25 years ago when a college professor told him he should audition for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and write a research paper about the experience. Ahearn has been entertaining people across the globe ever since. It’s family entertainment at its finest.


Set up your blankets for the fireworks show early

Festival organizers will allow attendants to set up their blankets and tarps during the day of the Fourth to stake a claim for the fireworks show, which starts at 10 p.m. Just don’t try to set up a spot any earlier as they don’t want people causing long-term damage to the grass in this city park. Your best bet is to have a group of people sitting together so you can all take turns hanging out there throughout the day to protect your territory. Yes, it’s a fabulous show that can be seen from many other places including the sidewalk of the Cass Street Bridge or in a boat on the Mississippi River, but I’d argue it is best enjoyed lying on your back on the grass in the center of Riverside Park. And don’t forget you need a button to access that premier grass north of State Street. Bug spray is also nice to have. Then get ready for the big boomers.


It’s all about that bass

For some, Riverfest is all about the music. They have big name acts, local acts – you name it. This year’s big attraction is Chase Bryant, who was co-host of the red carpet pre-show for the 52nd annual Academy of Country Music Awards earlier this year. There is a lot of other music to choose from if country isn’t your thing. Come listen to the acoustic guitars and congas of Paxico. Pop and rock will be played by the Johnny Holm Band. Listen to bluegrass by Pig Town Fling. You are probably familiar with long-time local bands like TUGG and The Executives. Bring chairs and blankets if you like. You’re bound to find something of interest. Besides, live music is awesome no matter the genre.


If you would like to create a detailed plan of all the food you want to eat during Riverfest, or want to see an entertainment schedule, visit the Riverfest Web site at or the Riverfest La Crosse Facebook page.

Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (