SIOUX CITY | Adam Feiges doesn’t have to think back too far in 25 years of Saturday in the Park memories to pick his favorite.
As the Avett Brothers closed last year’s SITP in Grandview Park, Feiges relished seeing one of his favorite bands play a festival he and Dave Bernstein founded in 1991.
“Seeing them up on the stage and how it’s morphed to being this first-class stage with great speakers and a beautiful light system … was just phenomenal,” Feiges said.
The first year drew about 5,000 people to the park and featured the late blues guitarist Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
The group netted about $10,000 at the first festival and used the funds for the second installment.
Feiges said they started it simply to bring a concert to the park that summer.
“We had no intention of any permanent thing,” he said. "We were Sioux Cityans and we were fond of Grandview Park and it seemed it was completely underutilized.”
Bernstein added he and Feiges joked about calling it “the first annual” event to poke fun at the probable one-time concert, which was sponsored on a one-time basis by Chesterman Co., the Sioux City-based bottler of Coca-Cola products.
But the next year, Bernstein pitched the idea of having the Neville Brothers play SITP to Ted Waitt, co-founder of Gateway, then a rapidly growing North Sioux City computer maker.
“He (Waitt) said, ‘Alright, cool,’” Bernstein recalled.
Sure enough, the Neville Brothers headlined in 1992, as Gateway began a long run as the festival sponsor. The headline act that year, Bernstein said, took SITP "up a notch.”
By 1994, Bernstein said the SITP planning committee reached its goal to recruit legendary Latin performer Santana to its main stage.
“Santana was a large touring band at the time doing arena shows and to have them play here put us on the top shelf in the days that a ticket would’ve been $40,” he said.
The ability to put on a massive, free show with national acts year in and year out, Bernstein said, is not something that simply happens overnight. Bernstein said a core of volunteers work throughout the year to fundraise and line up sponsors.
This year, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City, which opened last summer downtown, is the title sponsor.
“It’s a perfect match because of their focus on music,” he said. “They’re doing it day in and day out.”
While this year marks a quarter of a century, Bernstein said the idea was not to focus on the anniversary, but the event. Not wanting to further complicate the planning process, Bernstein said the planning committee instead focused its attention and resources to recruit a diverse lineup that appeals to both faithful and new SITP-goers. Aretha Franklin and Foster the People are this year's headline acts.
“Foster the People playing … is a nod to up-and-coming SITP fans, whereas Aretha, having her on the bill and on the Fourth (of July) is a special performer for an important time for us,” he said.
Those who want a look back at the festival's history are invited to the Sioux City Public Museum, 607 Fourth Street, to view "Saturday in the Park: Rockin' for 25 Years." The exhibit features autographed promotional posters, photographs and other memorabilia.
Bernstein acknowledged some years have been more difficult financially and logistically than others. However, the concert goes on each year. This year, Bernstein said SITP, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, will set a fundraising record, possibly eclipsing half a million dollars.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “We’ve been able to get top shelf volunteers to make it happen and raise the money for 25 years. Those things are overwhelming.”
Of course, Bernstein mentioned, a concert could not exist for 25 years without the fans who have consistently packed Grandview Park since the event began. Bernstein said crowds typically leave SITP satisfied and excited to return next year.
As for the artists? Bernstein said many have come to Sioux City not knowing what to expect from a free concert on a typically hot day and a holiday weekend. But as the festival draws to a close with a fireworks celebration, musicians leave the park with a different attitude.
“When they walk out on that stage and see 25,000 fans ready to hang on to every word and every note, it only serves to elevate the situation in most occasions,” he said. “That’s what makes SITP super magical.”