Snider's Might Panther Marching Band

Snider’s Mighty Panther Marching Band performs in the Three Rivers Festival Parade.

FORT WAYNE — The biggest party of the summer returns this month with the start of the Three Rivers Festival, which kicks off July 12 and wraps up July 20. Now in its 51st year, the granddaddy of all Fort Wayne festivals — and it’s a full and busy season of them — brings many of the area’s favorite events and activities. And, thanks to Junk Food Alley, it also brings some of our favorite foods. Although there is no Raft Race this year due to the busy construction along the new Riverfront and the much anticipated Promenade Park, other favorites will return and draw thousands to downtown Fort Wayne over the course of that week.

One of the favorite parts of Three Rivers Festival is the music lineup, and it is often one of the first things announced. This year’s lineup features a diverse sampling of not only national but local acts, providing a little something for every musical taste. Among those playing this year are Here Come the Mummies (July 13), The Star Music Stage featuring Unspoken, We are Messengers, Austin French, Britt Nicole and The Voices of Unity (July 14), Brother (July 16), the Heart and Soul Affair featuring Motown Sounds of Touch and Chris Worth (July 18), Pop Evil and Downstait (July 19) and Back to the 90s Tour featuring Young MC, Rob Base, C&C Music Factory featuring Freedom Williams and the Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra (July 20).

But kicking things off Friday night, July 12 — before things erupt in a big way with the opening day parade the following morning — is the Boogie Wonder Band which will take the stage at Headwaters Park, with Fort Wayne favorite Goodnight Gracie serving as the opening act. The Boogie Wonder Band formed in 1996 as a way to play the music that its band members most enjoyed listening to and playing.

“We really came together because of our love of disco,” said the band’s bassist, Boogie Cindy. “That’s what’s fun about this band. We love the music, and we all play it live on stage. We love getting the audience moving and jumping up and down. We’re excited to visit Indiana. We only played in Indiana once, but it was at a private event in Indianapolis. This is our first time playing in Fort Wayne.”

Twenty-three years is a long tenure for any band, but it’s especially remarkable for a band that plays all covers and in one particular genre. It definitely speaks to the popularity of the music and the band’s pleasure in performing it.

“I guess we were really lucky,” said Cindy. “Timing really is everything. When we started out in 1996, we were trying to create something, something that felt like you were back in New York at Studio 54 in 1976. We want to give the audience a bit of that crazy party with the costumes, the dance moves, the light show. It just makes people happy and gives them a feeling of letting go. No matter what kind of day they’re having, they can just come and enjoy the music.”

With five hours worth of material at the ready, picking the set list is really about putting together the perfect party soundtrack.

“We play a lot of different places,” said Cindy. “We’ve played alongside the big acts of the ‘70s like Kool & the Gang, KC & the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor. Every show is different, and obviously if we’re playing with Gloria Gaynor, we aren’t going to do ‘I Will Survive.’ When we play in Canada, they tend to like some of the softer disco songs like ABBA. But when we play in the Great Lakes area, they like the funk bands from the ‘70s so we play a funkier show. We adapt to the audience because we could play all night.”

Boogie Wonder Land is especially grateful for the response they’ve received for more than two decades, and they plan to keep on providing the music that makes people happy.

“It’s just such fun music,” said Cindy. “People hear those songs, and it puts a smile on everyone’s face. All over the world, it has the same effect. We just want to make people dance and have fun. Every night when we go on stage, we know exactly what’s coming.”

Visit threeriversfestival.org for ticket information and a full schedule of events.

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