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updated: 7/1/2012 7:49 AM

Ribfest planning is a year-round effort

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  • Thompson Square -- with Shawna, left, and Keifer Thompson -- is among the nationally touring acts performing this year at Ribfest. Booking a five-day lineup of big-name acts takes a lot of work -- the planning is year-round, says Matt Kaley, Ribfest's entertainment chairman.

      Thompson Square -- with Shawna, left, and Keifer Thompson -- is among the nationally touring acts performing this year at Ribfest. Booking a five-day lineup of big-name acts takes a lot of work -- the planning is year-round, says Matt Kaley, Ribfest's entertainment chairman.
    Associated Press

  • Joe Nichols headlines the main stage at Ribfest on Monday. Entertainment planners negotiate to get well-known performers, then take steps to ensure the fest's lineup will be unique in the area.

      Joe Nichols headlines the main stage at Ribfest on Monday. Entertainment planners negotiate to get well-known performers, then take steps to ensure the fest's lineup will be unique in the area.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
By Annalisa Rodriguez
arodriguez@dailyherald.com

The Naperville Exchange Club's Ribfest celebration may begin and end over a period of five days, but the planning is year-round.

Budgets need to be set, bands need to be booked and efforts need to be coordinated for the festival, which runs through Tuesday at Knoch Park near downtown.

Matt Kaley, entertainment chairman, must work within a budget to select local and national entertainment and coordinate various production aspects, such as lighting and staging.

This year's musical lineup includes ZZ Top taking the stage today; Thompson Square and Joe Nichols on Monday and Leftover Salmon and moe. closing the fest on Tuesday. Headliners Steve Miller Band and Joe Walsh performed during the fest's opening days.

"In years past, we've had bands booked right before or even right after Ribfest for the next year," Kaley said. "We know what our demographic is and we know what our budget is."

But even though exceptions can be made, Kaley said it is preferred that the full lineup is known by March.

The process is a long one of negotiating, waiting and considering which bands would be best for the festival.

For headliners, Kaley works with Jam Productions. He will reach out to the company, which will contact bands' agents. The band management works out the details with entertainers to negotiate fees and prices and decide where they'll be on their tour. Those fees can include things like hotel accommodations, transportation and rental equipment costs.

"It's more than just cutting them a check," Kaley said.

Most of the time, Kaley said, the bands are on tour and accepting offers. Band management works around the offers, planning tours around them in a geographically logical manner.

"It's kind of a waiting game at that point," Kaley said. "The search is the hardest part."

Often, bands that play at Ribfest will be performing somewhere else in the Midwest. If enough bids are circulating around the area, it's more likely the band will play at Ribfest.

"What we benefit from is having Milwaukee Summerfest around the same time," Kaley said. "We share a lot of the same bands."

Then, it's a process of negotiating prices and waiting. Oftentimes, Kaley will tell an entertainer that if they don't reply by a certain date, the offer will be pulled.

"We can't hang out there waiting forever," Kaley said. "We need time to book the festival so we have time to market and promote whoever's playing."

However, it's not always Ribfest's efforts that secure entertainment. In fact, Kaley said many of the bands also reach out to Ribfest because of the size and popularity the festival has gained over the past 25 years.

"We've been contacted at this point almost as much as we reach out," Kaley said. "If you're on the stage on the same day as some of our major headliners, you have enormous exposure to a huge audience."

Local bands reach out to Ribfest through a website where they can upload music for Kaley to personally sift through.

Each year, there are about 300 submissions to the website. This year, out of those, Kaley said he selected eight to 10 local bands.

"The considerations vary, the most important being that they're quality musicians and are able to pull in and draw an audience," Kaley said. "There are some that are repeated because they're so popular in the area and I know they're going to pull in a crowd for us."

Eighty to 90 percent of the bands involved, excluding big-name headliners, donate their performances or give discounts to Ribfest, Kaley said.

"They understand the charitable nature of the event," he said.

But even when the band has been booked, it's not over. Kaley said Ribfest has to protect itself from other local festivals and venues.

For that, there's the radius clause -- a part of the contract that makes sure the band or entertainer won't play anywhere else within 100 miles of Ribfest within 30 days of the festival.

The radius clause exists to keep the festival competitive and ensure Ribfest is offering a lineup not readily available elsewhere.

"They can't just book another show without getting my approval if it falls within the radius clause," Kaley said.

With all the work that goes into booking music, Ribfest has maintained a reputation for offering a wide and diverse array of performers over the last 25 years.

"We're definitely one of the premiere music festivals in the Midwest," Kaley said, "if not the premiere music festival."

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