When Mark Chappius attended a rib festival in Toledo more than two decades ago, he was immediately hooked.
“I’m a big barbecue nut myself, so I thought, ‘Why doesn’t Fort Wayne have one of these?’” he said. “And the rest is history.”
Now in its 22nd year and running June 13-16, Fort Wayne’s own BBQ Ribfest is going strong, and it has become one of the city’s favorite weekends of the summer. The combination of award-winning barbecue and music has established it as one of the area’s biggest festivals of a busy season.
Slathering on the fun
Not content to rest on his laurels, Chappius keeps working to bring more fun to the activities.
“There’s an old saying ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fit it,’” Chappius said. “But after 22 years, we try to come up with some new ideas. Mostly we make sure that we’re bringing them the best barbecue in the country, and we’re bringing in some of the best teams available, many that are currently featured on TV. Barbecue is a great American tradition, and a big part of our success has been our great barbecue.”
This year, several renowned teams will be on hand, including two from this area. National teams include Desperado’s BBQ & Rib Co., Big-Boned Barbecue, Jack on the Bone, Texas Pit BBQ, Carolina Rib King, and Pigfoot.
Garrett’s Timmy’s BBQ and Fort Wayne’s own Low N Slow will have a variety of offerings (with a heavy dose of ribs) for those craving some smoky barbecue.
Rocking by the river
Of course, the food is only part of the equation, and Chappius is shaking up the entertainment lineup this year to include more diverse offerings.
“We’ve always focused on blues-oriented music, but we decided to change up the music lineup a bit,” he said.
“We’re bringing in an AC/DC tribute band that just recently played at The Clyde. Everyone said that the band is phenomenal, just a great group of musicians and that they really packed the place. We’re also bringing in a ZZ Top cover band so there’ll be more rock n’ roll than in the past.
“And we’re also partnering with K105 for a Country Night featuring Indiana’s own Clayton Anderson, and on Saturday night we’re also featuring Laith Al-Saadi who was on The Voice a couple of years ago. We’ve always been so focused on blues music that we thought it was time to mix it up a little this year.”
The full music lineup kicks off Thursday night with Daily Driver at 6 p.m. and Dash Rip Rock starting at 9 p.m. Friday’s entertainment starts at noon with the Sims Project featuring Michael Patterson, providing some lunchtime fun for those in the area who want to head in for some barbecue for some fuel heading into the weekend.
The music resumes around the dinner hour with the David Gerald Band at 5:30, Matthew Curry at 7:30, and that rocking AC/DC band, Thunderstruck, kicking off their set at 9:30.
The weekend is similarly packed with performers with Fansler Kid providing noontime music, followed by Lee Lewis All-Stars and Blues Jam at 2 p.m., the Nick Harless Band at 5:30, Clayton Anderson at 7:15, and Laith Al-Saadi at 9. Then, from 10:15 until midnight, prepare yourself for the Best of Rockin’ Blues Brews and BBQ.
Sunday wraps up the schedule with the Blues Jammin’ Party from noon until 5 p.m. and the ZZ Top cover band bringing it home from 6 to 8 p.m.
Welcoming to the whole family
Providing a full slate of music and award winning barbecue has been the key to the success of the BBQ Ribfest, but Chappius had another priority when he was planning what has become an institution.
“It was important to me that it be family friendly, and that was the first thing we looked at when planning it,” he said. “Back then, so many of the big events were 21 and over, and we wanted to make it open for the whole family and open to people who were under 21. People thought we were kind of nuts, but now we’re glad we did. So many families have been able to enjoy it over the years.
“And it’s become a big favorite for families to take Dad on Father’s Day. I’ve had so many people say, ‘I went to my first Ribfest on Father’s Day 15 years ago, and now I look forward to it every year.’ I love hearing things like that and knowing we’ve become part of family traditions.”
The weekend is family friendly from a financial perspective as well. Admission for Thursday through Saturday is free before 5:30 p.m. then just $6 for adults (14 and older), $5 for seniors, $4 for students, military, fire, and police with ID. Sunday is just $3 all day.
A full list of events and details about the barbecue teams visiting Headwaters Park that weekend can be found on the website at http://bbqribfest.com.
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