RibFest should really be smoking this weekend
Ribmasters from across U.S. set for 25th annual avent
Around 40,000 barbecue fans are expected to flock to Headwaters Park in downtown Fort Wayne for the four-day BBQ RibFest, June 16-19.
More than 25 tons of ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and chicken will be devoured in that span, as BBQ fans enjoy hot, spicy, tangy, and smoke-filled styles, all prepared by award-winning national ribmasters.
It wasn’t always smoky, blues-smothered summer fun, though. A little more than 25 years ago, RibFest was nothing more than an idea bouncing around the reluctant mind of a barbecue novice.
Mark Chappuis was attending a conference in Ohio when the eureka moment exploded in his mind.
“I got off the bus and smelled the incredible aroma, and it was absolutely packed,” he said. “I started to look around. They had bands playing. I see a guy with like 50 (barbecue) trophies stacked up from events all over the country.”
Almost as an afterthought, he found himself taking in the barbecue event in Toledo. That’s when it hit him: “I thought, ‘Fort Wayne needs one of these.’ ”
Now, RibFest has become a part of the Summit City summer.
Celebrating it’s 25th anniversary, Chappuis sees RibFest as community event anchored in family, music, fun, and really good, mouth-watering, lip-smacking food.
Catching a Break
Once Chappuis got the idea for the festival, it didn’t take long to find faithful foodies that first year.
“We were blessed with incredible weather, mild, mid-70s, all four days,” he said. “They just about beat down the doors and this was just year one.”
Not everyone believed in the idea.
“A lot of people said, ‘Oh, you’re kidding me. That won’t fly.’ We had such a turn out,” Chappuis said. “We had around 12,000 people the first year, so it was just like spontaneous combustion.”
Chappuis also caught a big break that year, convincing nationally-acclaimed BBQ company Desperado’s to take a chance on Fort Wayne. This, after he and other masters were sent scrambling after an event in Pittsburgh was canceled.
“When (other ribmasters) heard Desperado’s was coming, they were in,” Chappuis said.
Building on it’s appeal, it was named of on the top 10 barbecue events in the country in Martha Stewart’s Living magazine.
“That was probably a decade ago, but I’m still proud of that one,” Chappuis said.
Family Friendly, Budget-Focused
Organizers boast a solid lineup of musical artists. While that’s good enough to draw people in on its own, the price makes it irresistible.
“We’ve worked to keep tickets inexpensive,” Chappuis said. “The concert business has gotten crazy with ticket prices, and we just feel that we wanted to keep it very affordable for people to come.”
The event offers free admission before 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Evening admission is $6 for adults and $3 for those between the ages of 7 and 18. All-day Sunday entry is $3, with dads and those younger than 10 getting in free. There are also discounts and free admission for police, fire, and other public safety workers.
“It’ll probably be the best $6-or-less experience that you’ll ever have,” Chappuis said. “We work all year long to find, I guess what I would consider, gems that are gonna be a great musical experience for people, but also I’d say that all of our acts are family friendly as well.”
On Thursday, The Ghost Town Blues Band performs from 7-8:30 p.m., followed by a Jimi Hendrix tribute, Electric Gypsy Experience.
On Friday, the Nick Harless Band takes the stage, belting blues and rock at 5 p.m. followed by blues artists Mark May at 7 p.m. and Anthony Gomes at 9 p.m.
Set the Hook performs Saturday afternoon with The Ghost Town Blues Band returning at 7 p.m., followed by Eagles tribute band, Epic Eagles, at 9 p.m.
Patience is what makes good barbecue, according to Chappuis.
“The old mantra is that barbecue is low and slow, and that is so true,” he said. “Most people are not patient enough to smoke for 22 hours.”
Tossing in unique twists of spices, techniques, and specialty wood chips makes each batch special.
“We’ve got seven national teams, and then we have the two local teams (McHyser BBQ of Columbia City and Timmy’s of Huntertown),” Chappuis said. “These guys can hold their own.”
Chappuis says the festival is unique by design.
“Each (vendor) brings a unique touch,” he said. “The big guys have a distinct type of barbecue that’s characteristic of their part of the country. They have their own style, their own recipes.”
Not Just Ribs
The event will have other vendors, offering funnel cakes, ice cream, Wisconsin cheese curds, and lemon shake-ups.
“I emphasize that if you’re not a rib fan, well, there’s a lot of other good stuff these guys are cooking,” he said.
Finding space downtown isn’t always difficult, but it is different this summer due to construction. There are several options, including free or low cost within close proximity of Headwaters, as well as a free shuttle that operates across from Lawton Park.