Naperville Ribfest recap: 150,000 people, 4 park closures, 1 rescheduled fireworks show

150,000 people, 4 park closures, 1 rescheduled fireworks show

  • Steven Tyler performs on Saturday, the final day of the 31st annual Ribfest in Naperville.

      Steven Tyler performs on Saturday, the final day of the 31st annual Ribfest in Naperville. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Updated 7/12/2018 7:05 AM

Weather played temperamental tricks on Ribfest organizers in Naperville over the holiday weekend, sweeping through with storms the first two days of the celebration, cutting one concert short and causing minor damage to the grounds.

But as cleanup concludes at Knoch Park, the site of all the ribs, rides and concerts from July 4 through 7, Ribfest Chairman Joel Carlsen says volunteers, vendors and public safety personnel pulled together to salvage as much of the "party with a purpose" as possible.


"Talk about a trial for Ribfest on days one and two," said Carlsen, a member of the Exchange Club of Naperville. "It really showed us what we were made of."

Organizers and a total of 4,000 volunteers -- about 1,000 each day -- persevered through four total park closures July 4 and 5, which reduced attendance at the 31st annual event.

"Instead of 200,000, we were probably in the 150,000 range," Carlsen said of the fest's total estimated attendance.

One particularly fast-moving storm July 5 brought winds of about 60 mph.

But Carlsen said two meteorologists in the fest's command center saw it coming. Organizers closed the park and evacuated the grounds within 16 minutes, just enough time to get everyone into nearby Naperville Central High School or their own vehicles before the storm.

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After the weather passed, Carlsen said the damage was evident, but not devastating.

Tents thrown askew. Portable toilets toppled. A large air conditioner blown into a tent. Signs ripped off their supports.

But 90 minutes later, the park was back open, with no storm-related injuries reported and only minor health concerns related to the heat among festival guests. Later that evening,

Pitbull took the stage as scheduled -- not like the previous evening's performers Stray Cats with Melissa Etheridge, whose time on stage was abbreviated by a thunderstorm.

The performer estimated there were 50,000 people in the crowd as he sang on the north side of the park, and Carlsen said practically all of them were on their feet.


"That was a blast," he said. "Everyone was standing up, jumping and dancing to Pitbull."

Pitbull's performance was followed by fireworks, rescheduled from the night before, which led organizers to offer free admission to the south portion of the park on two evenings instead of one.

Crowds during the event proved calm, with no security concerns and no arrests reported, Carlsen said.

The event's second two days made up for some of the chaos of the first, with local Westmont ribber Uncle Bub's BBQ winning all three possible awards -- best ribs, best sauce and kids choice -- and with Saturday headliner Steven Tyler performing without a hitch.

The main dent to the festival's fundraising potential came from the loss of beverage sales that couldn't be conducted during the hours the park was closed. While the festival missed out on some money it could have raised to funnel to organizations that combat child abuse and domestic violence, Carlsen said a final accounting of proceeds is not yet complete.

"I'm confident to say we had a very good year," he said.

A committee within the Exchange Club plans to begin seeking grant applications for festival funds in October. Monies typically are distributed at a lunch in February.

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