The theme of the Warana Festival was "entertainment for the people, by the people". Over the years regular Warana features varied, but included a drama festival and eisteddfod, a writers' week, a George Street Colonial Fair, a Miss Warana Pageant and various religious, sporting and other outdoors activities. Brisbane Festival was held as a biennial festival from 1996 to 2008. During this time the festival has had two Artistic Directors, Tony Gould (1996-2004) and Lyndon Terracini (2006-2008).
Under their leadership the festival has developed into one of the most highly respected and acclaimed international arts festivals. In 2009 the festival merged with Riverfestival and the decision was made to hold the festival annually instead of biennially