Rivfest Weekender: Why it matters to Warrington

Creating ‘alternative futures’ for young musicians in the town, the festival set up in memory of Viola Beach guitarist, River Reeves returns for its fifth year this weekend, with the aim to provide over £25,000 worth of bursaries in 2021.
A version of this feature was first published in the Summer 2021 edition of [WAM] Magazine.

Now firmly established as one of the key fixtures in the region, the charity festival returns to the 3,000 capacity Old Market Square, in the heart of Warrington with a three- day weekender of major names and hotly tipped new talent.

RivFest is presented by The River Reeves Foundation, an arts charity launched in 2016 following the tragic deaths of River, his band Viola Beach and their manager, Craig Tarry. The 2021 event is also a celebration marking five years since Viola Beach posthumously reached #1 in the UK Albums chart.

Kicking off the festival on the Friday night is Hacienda legend Graeme Park. Handpicking tracks from his 30 plus year career, also be joined by special guest, Will Tramp & DJ Paulette for the evening for what will be a welcome return of the nightlife that we’ve all missed so dearly.

The spiritual replacement for Warrington Music Festival in 2021, Rivfest will also see national names sharing the stage with local artists as Mercury Prize and Ivor Novello nominees Everything Everything, are joined as headliners on the weekend of 6-8 August by Birchwood singer-songwriter,
Abi Rose Kelly (Saturday and Sunday nights respectively).

The festival as come a long way since its humble beginnings on the playing fields of Priestley College with River’s family and friends pulling the first event together in under two weeks. From humble beginnings came hopes and aspirations that matched River’s.

More than 500 people came together for a memorable event and at that point Ben Dunne, River’s dad, knew that he wanted to keep his son’s memory alive through future investment in local emerging talent. This became the inspiration for The River Reeves Foundation providing bursaries to young artists wishing to pursue careers within the arts.

A year later in 2017 the team took the original idea and ran with it. More than 2000 people saw Maxïmo Park and Billy Bragg headline but it was unexpected moments like Joe Hill from Serratone joining Mo and 32 Tens on stage for an impromptu jam that really stole the show.

For 32 Tens guitarist, Sam Glancy the day will forever be with him as a musical highlight. It also came just a matter of weeks after the band’s frontman said on national TV that following his appearance on The Voice UK, he wanted to start a band with his longtime friend.

“We got the gig before we’d even actually formed the band and wrote the songs. Rivfest Festival catapulted us into all the other gigs that we’ve played, all the opportunities we’ve gone onto have. The Festival is in our DNA, and we just feel so privileged to be able to play it every year.”

A year later and there was a significant change to the format to make it a town centre wide celebration in Warrington.

The main stage was at the Parr Hall with fringe events taking place at 9 other local venues including Friars Court, The Volstead and The Old Town House. The move into the town centre brought a focus on emerging artists from across the North West, many such as The Mysterines, Witch Fever and Spilt going onto great things.

A showcase event at the Parr Hall on the eve of the main event put The Lottery Winners in the spotlight along
with No Hot Ashes, The Bohos and Birchwood’s Kula Bay.

The last Rivfest in 2019 brought things all under one roof, following a joint collaboration with Culture Warrington with 30 artists over three stages at the Pyramid Centre in Warrington. Once again young musicians were put front and centre, with the 2nd stage curated by the merseyside collective, Whispering Pines, and Earlestown band The K’s headlining the exhibition hall stage.

Provisional plans to return to the same venue in 2020 were scuppered by the pandemic but following a successful summer in 2020 which saw Golden Square working together with Vintage Viola who are situated in the Mall on the incredibly successful acoustic-led ‘Straight Out Of Lockdown’ events, plans were afoot for Rivfest to return with a bang!

Artist Liason Officer, Charlotte Davies believes the best part about Rivfest is all the emerging talent that’s playing, and we certainly can’t argue with any of that! “There aren’t many places you can see this many acclaimed acts for just £25, plus you know that you’re supporting a great cause too. The money goes into the RRF’s bursaries which in turn supports the latest talent.”

“So many of our acts on this year’s line up have been supported by the charity in one way or another and it’s great to watch their careers develop and grow over the years.”

Many of the local acts on this year’s line-up have been awarded bursaries from the River Reeves Foundation. Over the next 12 months, the charity will award another 50 grants of up to £500 to support young people and those from disadvan- taged backgrounds achieve their artistic ambitions.

We’re particularly excited for the final day of the Weekender, which is being promoted described as a showcase of talent from around and the north west, headlined by grunge pop singer Abi Rose Kelly.

Amongst new acts to be playing the festival such as Jessica Luise and Liam Hillyer who you can read about elsewhere in this issue, there are welcome returns for indie rocks acts such as Aligners and Saytr Play, the latter be playing their 4th in a row!

“Rivfest has been incredibly important in keeping the Warrington music scene alive, it brings a sense of community to the scene and also gives upcoming artists like my band a massive chance to play to loads of people, we’ll always support them”, says Nathan Greenfield, frontman of Aligners.

Max Vickers, vocalist in 32 Tens knew members of the band Viola Beach, from performing at the same open mics around town believes the festival is important in terms of encouraging young artists: “It gives them a platform and a chance to be seen. You can see the faith they put in other local artists.”

RivFest21 is one of the many fundraising outlets for The River Reeves Foundation, an arts charity which aims to provide bursaries and support for disadvantaged young people who want to build a career in the arts. Showing they are more than a charity for musicians, the foundation have also supported painters and photographers amongst many other vocations. There is even a running group, ‘Riv’s Runners’! We wish RRF the very best!

Be sure to keep an eye out on the [WAM] Socials for coverage and videos from this years event. To find out more about The River Reeves Foundation and how you may be able to benefit from a bursary, head to riverreevesfoundation.org/

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