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TR Water Festival ‘goes for the gold’ in its 67th year

A look at the Three Rivers Water Festival midway at night during the 2023 festival. This year’s festival kicks off on Thursday, June 13 and runs through Saturday, June 15. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

THREE RIVERS — The kickoff to summer in St. Joseph County is almost here.

The 67th Three Rivers Water Festival will kick off on Thursday, June 13 and goes through Saturday, June 15. It is presented by the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce.

A staple of the community for many decades, there will be many returning favorites and new events to take part in for this year’s event, something that Chamber President and CEO Christy Trammell said makes her excited for this year’s edition.

“We are very grateful this is something we can continue to do for the community. It benefits the citizens, the businesses, and it’s a feel-good all the way around,” Trammell said. “It’s the first of the festivals for the county, so the Water Festival kind of kicks off all the county summer festivals. People travel from all over to attend, to participate, to have booths, so we are happy to kick off the season.”

This year’s theme for the festival is “TR Goes for the Gold,” a nod to the 2024 Summer Olympics happening in Paris later this summer. To complement the theme, the grand marshals for the street parade happening at 7 p.m. on June 13 are two Three Rivers natives who have competed in trials for national and international athletic competitions, including the Olympics.

This year’s grand marshals are Nathan Martin, who finished seventh at the United States Marathon Olympic Trials in February and is the fastest US-born African-American marathon runner, and Brynn Cupp, a junior Olympic hopeful who competed in the International Weightlifting Federation’s World Youth Championships in May for Team USA in the 49-kilogram weight class and competed in the 2023 CrossFit Games.

The parade itself is the highlight of the first day of the festival, and draws hundreds of people along the route, which runs from West Michigan Avenue all the way through downtown to the area north of downtown on North Main Street. Spots in this year’s parade, Trammell said, are sold out.

“We’ve been running about 1,200 people in the parade. I expect to see a big parade again, as we have a lot of people running for office,” Trammell said.

Other events happening on Thursday, June 13 include the opening day of the carnival midway, once again ran by Anderson Midways, which opens at 4 p.m. The Lions Club Ox Roast will begin at 11 a.m. and take place at the Lions Club Service Center at 420 Sixth Ave., while the Ambassadors for Christ chicken and ribs barbecue begins at the same time at Memory Isle Park. Monster truck rides in the city parking lot near the railroad tracks also begin after the parade. Open houses at the Silliman House at 116 S. Main St. and the St. Joseph County Historical Society at 34 N. Main St. begin at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. respectively.

On Friday, June 14, a brand-new event highlights the evening in downtown Three Rivers, as a free Silent Disco will take place on Main Street from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. How it works is people check in, get a pair of headphones and choose one of three types of music to listen to. Then people go party and interact with others listening to the same music, while from the outside, spectators won’t hear a thing. The event is sponsored by HG Real Estate and organized by Riverside Church.

Trammell said the idea for the Silent Disco came about during a board meeting of the Michigan Festival Events Association, which she is a member of.

“We’re continually looking for new and fresh ideas. It came up during a meeting, saying this is a new and popular thing that people are going for in their festivals,” Trammell said. “I reached out to Riverside Church, since they’ve done it with their youth group, and they were more than willing to host the event. One thing we always look for too is something that’s family-friendly, but even youth can participate in, since there’s not enough for them to do. This is something we felt hit both of those marks.”

The downtown block of Main Street will also be blocked off beginning Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon, as before the Silent Disco, a cornhole tournament will take place on Main Street alongside the Three Rivers Woman’s Club pie auction, both beginning at 5 p.m. Friday. The block will remain closed to traffic through Saturday’s classic car show in downtown.

Elsewhere on Friday’s schedule will be the return of the Soap Box Derby, which had been on Sundays in previous years. The derby, sponsored by Superior Receipt Book and Printing Services, begins at 3 p.m. on Spring Street by Scidmore Park and is open to kids 7 to 13 years old. Participants will take turns riding in non-motorized cars down the hill of Spring Street. Trammell said moving this event off of Sunday to Friday will hopefully help improve participation.

“We aren’t competing for Father’s Day or Sunday, and those that have attended the festival all week are not also kind of tired. We’re hoping this will increase the participation,” Trammell said. “It’s a cool opportunity and it’s free to attend.”

Elsewhere on Friday, the arts and crafts marketplace opens up at 10 a.m., food vendors open up at 10 a.m., and the carnival midway opens at noon. Monster truck rides will again be available from noon until closing, and open houses at the Historical Society and Silliman House open up at 10 a.m.

The final day, Saturday, is highlighted by a few free concerts to attend. At noon, the Three Rivers German Band performs at the Scidmore Park Pavilion, followed by the Kalamazoo Concert Band at the bottom of Hospital Hill at Scidmore Park at 3 p.m. Trammell said with the demolition of the old Three Rivers Hospital complete, there was an opportunity to bring back a “nostalgic moment” with how this particular concert is set up.

“They used to have concerts there, where people would bring their lawn chairs or blankets and set up on the hill facing toward the tent where the musicians were playing. That’s what we’re going back to, that nostalgic moment of having the blankets and stuff spread out on the hill and looking down onto the park and being able to listen that way,” Trammell said.

The two main stage concerts on Saturday will be the Three Rivers Community Schools Jazz Band at 6 p.m., followed by the headliner of the festival, The Last Mangos, a Jimmy Buffett tribute band, in concert at 8 p.m. The concerts will take place near the Three Rivers Fire Department, where the main stage will be set up.

Prior to the concerts, in front of the main stage, a brand-new event will take place: Independent professional wrestling, with promotion company Wrassle Graphix presenting a slate of matches beginning at 3 p.m. Wrestlers will include Sgt. Viktor Petrov, “Officer” Rod Street, Tyler “By God” Matthews, Silas Young, and Slaughterhouse.

The event was a bit of a later entry into the festival, Trammell said.

“We had a gentleman who reached out to us after we posted the first draft of our schedule, and he lives locally, but he handles the wrestling for the Indianapolis area. He’s a promoter and does that, and offered to bring it to Three Rivers,” Trammell said. “They needed a grassy area and a lot of stuff, and that spot ended up working out. That’ll be a unique venue.”

Other events going on Saturday include the Firefighters Pancake Breakfast from 7-10:30 a.m. at the fire department, the Lions Club Turtle Derby at 8:30 a.m. at the Lions Club Service Center on Sixth Avenue, the Hope United Run at 9 a.m., the classic car, truck and motorcycle show and the Woman’s Club Pie Sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Bicycle Rodeo at the Elks Lodge on 603 W. Michigan Ave. from 10 a.m. to noon, the Summer Fly-in at 1900 Hov Aire Dr. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the free kids zone at Scidmore Park from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Historical Society will have an open house from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Silliman House will have an open house from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the arts and crafts marketplace runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., food vendors open up at 10 a.m., monster truck rides start at 11 a.m., the midway opens at 11 a.m., and the ox roast goes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or when they sell out.

As always, the festival will conclude with the fireworks finale at dusk after the Last Mangos concert, with the fireworks shooting off from the island at Memory Isle Park. Trammell gave a bit of a hint as to what to expect with this year’s display.

“We did pick some Olympic songs to go with the fireworks, including the Olympics theme song and some of the other fun ones like We Are the Champions,” Trammell said.

Those who plan to attend the festival are asked to keep a watch on the Three Rivers Water Festival Facebook page for any weather-related changes to the schedule, however the weather is expected to be in the low 80s with mostly-sunny or partly-cloudy skies for the festival weekend, according to the Weather Channel.

Trammell said she hopes those who attend have a good time at the festival, which draws an estimated 15,000 people to Three Rivers for the weekend.

“We hope that people come out and enjoy the festival this year. It takes a lot of sponsors to put on the festival; it’s very, very expensive. We’re very grateful to our sponsors and our community for supporting it,” Trammell said. “We always try to make it so there’s something for everyone.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

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