After being canceled in 2020, the Three Rivers Festival returned to downtown Fort Wayne with its July 9 kickoff. Despite some customary activities still unavailable, festival fans were not deterred from returning to many of the other annual festival activities that always attract large crowds.

Even though not preceded this year by the festival parade, popular events including Art in the Park, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s Chalk Walk, The Downtown Midway, The Emporium at Headwaters Park, and Junk Food Alley still drew thousands downtown on July 10.

Despite threatening rain clouds, a steady stream of visitors attended activities throughout the day. “We relocated to Fort Wayne from Cleveland for my wife’s job, and right after we got here, the pandemic hit,” said Ron Jackson. Jackson and his wife, Rae, were enjoying the Three Rivers Festival for the first time. “We’ve already bought a couple of things, and we don’t normally buy anything at art shows. We’re just especially glad that they’re having the festival this year so we can get out to do things and experience the city.”

One feature new to the Three Rivers Festival is the sale of tickets for a 50/50. The festival will receive half of the proceeds from the ticket sales to subsidize festival events, and one winner will be selected July 17 before the closing fireworks to receive the remaining 50% of ticket sale proceeds. Booths selling tickets and volunteers promoting the raffle were visible around the festival areas.

Pam and Brian Reagan from the Toledo, Ohio, area were working their Freimann Square booth, Brickhouse Partners Ltd., featuring unique patent art. This was their third Three Rivers Art in the Park show, and their booth was experiencing heavy traffic on Saturday. “We won an award our first year here, and that helped us get started. We’re glad to be back and meeting with customers again.”

Michael and Bonnie Vargas worked their booth at Art in the Park, Gearhead Custom Co., featuring Michael’s unique metal art. Using welding skills, he crafts together metal items to create custom pieces of art. A large metal horse, which included parts manufactured by Dana Inc., drew the attention of many festival goers. This was the Vargas’ first year at the Art in the Park show. The couple started their business three years ago, and traveled to approximately one craft or art show a month, including “Shipshewana on the Road” during the winter months. “This is my full-time job now,” said Michael. “We appreciate the support we’ve gotten today.”

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art, celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2021, continued its always popular Chalk Walk. The Museum commissioned artists Craig and Jamie Rogers from Richland Center, Wisconsin, to create a trompe l’oeil chalk drawing to celebrate their landmark year. The Rogers, who teach high school and middle school art, created a drawing featuring likenesses of Vincent Van Gogh and the “Mona Lisa” holding a golden balloon. When viewed straight on, the drawing appeared to be three-dimensional.

Another popular chalk drawing was created by artist Megan Maynard, sponsored by Laura Stine Gardens, a local landscaper. Maynard holds a BA in Art from the University of Minnesota, but works full time for Growing Minds, a local nonprofit that provides tutoring services. “There is so much talent in Fort Wayne,” noted Maynard. “This is a great way to show our work and to get the community involved.”

Megan Shank, who repairs small motors for Electric Power Service by day, created the People’s Choice award-winning chalk drawing of Elvis Presley. Shank also does freelance mural work to use her art skills.

Junk Food Alley did not disappoint festival attendees with its many offerings. Timmy’s BBQ, an award-winning restaurant and catering company with locations in Garrett and Huntertown, sent delicious smells wafting throughout downtown, and the requisite fried cheese, elephant ears, and lemonade stands drew crowds of hungry festivalgoers.

On the festival stage in Headwaters Park, students from the Fort Wayne School of Rock performed, including the House Band. Students must audition to be in the band that performs at public events, and included Vanessa Alvarado, Ethan Oberley, Kaden Gordon, Mallory Michmerhuizen, Ian Miller, Mallory McKibben and Eva Kountouris. School of Rock franchise owner Mark McKibben, a longtime area musician, works with the students to develop their rock ‘n’ roll skills.

The Three Rivers Festival will continue throughout the week, until the closing fireworks on Saturday, July 17, with some familiar events and some new events planned. For a complete schedule of festival events, visit the website at threeriversfestival.org.

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