“The River Rats formed in 1996 and held their first festival in 1997 with headliner Danny Hooper,” says Heather Stocking, president of the Magnificent River Rats Festival Society. “In the early days a flat deck trailer was pulled into the park and a rudimentary sound system set up, but people loved it and kept coming back.”
The festival continued to grow in popularity, hosting up to 4,000 people some years.
Heather continues, “In 2001 a permanent stage was built at Riverfront Park with the amazing Athabasca River as the backdrop. Jason McCoy and Amanda Stott were the first performers to use it. Since the start of the festival, we've had local bands like Delirium and 25 Cigarettes, as well as internationally known performers Corb Lund, Randy Bachman, Trooper, Bif Naked and more. Over the years we've also showcased the local Ukrainian and jazz dancers, puppet shows, magicians and even invited Fred Penner and Sharon and Bram to entertain.”
One thing the crowd has always loved is the battle of the bands where musicians (adults in one category and high school students in their own category) battle it out to earn a spot on the main stage.
This year, an Edmonton-based band named Us will be on the lineup with a major headliner and Heather is excited to share who that is.
“Finger Eleven! It's a real coup to get a major band like Finger Eleven to play a smaller festival like ours. Also, Danny Hooper was our first performer and he's back this year to emcee and perform. It's nice he's able to come back 25 years later and help us celebrate this milestone.”
This is not an event to miss. “You're never going to get this much entertainment in one day for only $40 on July 1 and for $30 July 2. We have adult, youth/senior, single day, and weekend passes, and children 7 and under are always free,” says Heather. “There will be youth activities, a Farmers' Market, beer tent, food trucks, parade, and fireworks on July 1, and more. Finger Eleven alone can sell out stadiums and you'd pay closer to $100 just to see them from a cheap seat; and we have them plus many more fabulous performers both days.”
You can help keep the fun going by volunteering. As a non-profit society that is run on donations and grants, volunteers help keep the cost down, enabling more people to attend.
“Anyone who volunteers during the festival itself will get free entry, food, drinks, and other benefits. They can also join the society for $2 and help us plan the next festival. In this digital age you don't even need to be in Athabasca to be a part of the society, just have an interest and willingness to volunteer,” encourages Heather.
The festival is a fun and inclusive event that brings the whole family together. Celebrate the return of in-person community events by checking out the local and international bands, and everything else the Magnificent River Rats has to offer. Learn more here:www.riverratsfestival.com.