30 things to know about Naperville's Ribfest

 
 
Updated 6/27/2017 12:41 PM
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  • The Naperville Exchange Club's 30th anniversary Ribfest celebration will run from Friday through Monday in Knoch Park near downtown.

    The Naperville Exchange Club's 30th anniversary Ribfest celebration will run from Friday through Monday in Knoch Park near downtown. Daily Herald file photo

  • Past Ribfest chairmen and chairwomen, including Marty Walker, who led the festival in 2013, will be invited back to judge the best ribs and best sauce competitions during this year's fest.

    Past Ribfest chairmen and chairwomen, including Marty Walker, who led the festival in 2013, will be invited back to judge the best ribs and best sauce competitions during this year's fest. Daily Herald file photo

  • The 20-acre Ribfest setup at Knoch Park in Naperville will include six locations for attendees to buy beer and six selling nonalcoholic beverages.

    The 20-acre Ribfest setup at Knoch Park in Naperville will include six locations for attendees to buy beer and six selling nonalcoholic beverages. Daily Herald file photo

  • The carnival at Ribfest in Naperville expanded in 2010 when the festival started using both the north and south sides of Knoch Park.

    The carnival at Ribfest in Naperville expanded in 2010 when the festival started using both the north and south sides of Knoch Park. Daily Herald file photo

The Naperville Exchange Club's Ribfest will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year during a four-day run from Friday through Monday in Knoch Park near downtown.

Its calling cards are classics: ribs, concerts, family fun, fireworks. And it's always a fundraiser to help prevent child abuse and domestic violence.

But Ribfest has been through changes in location, timing, food offerings and size to grow into what attendees will experience this year -- a smorgasbord of smoked meats and complimentary tastes, a sampling ground of products and services from nearby businesses, a spectacle of major musicians playing main stage concerts.

As Ribfest celebrates its 30th year, here are 30 things to know about the long-running event:

1. The first Ribfest took place on Rotary Hill along the Naperville Riverwalk on Father's Day, 1988. It moved to Knoch Park the following year.

2. The fest is planned by members of the Exchange Club of Naperville, who started it with organizers from the Naperville Park District and took over from there.

3. At least 10 founding members of the club are still involved with planning this year's festival.

4. The club recruits roughly 4,000 volunteers a year to keep the festival rolling.

5. Some volunteers have fun titles, like "rib runner," which is a helper who dashes from ribbers to the sponsors tent, delivering slabs and sides for donors.

6. More than 30 charities have received a total of $15.5 million, raised at Ribfest in 29 years.

7. The most profitable year was 2016, when the event raised nearly $1.2 million.

8. In 2010, the festival expanded from the north side of Knoch Park to a 20-acre setup on both the north and south sides with two stages, two sponsor tents and an expanded carnival.

9. This year's tickets run $15 to $40 for performers, including Toby Keith, the B-52s, Shinedown and The Wallflowers. Kids 11 and younger always get in free with a paying adult.

10. Ribfest has featured 12 traveling rib vendors each year since 2014, with several regulars always among the roster.

11. This year's ribbers come from Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia.

12. They'll be joined by 18 other vendors selling ice cream, lemonade, smoothies, pizza, corn, funnel cakes and tacos.

13. The most ribbers came to the festival in 1999, when there were 22.

14. The ribber who started it all went by "Billy Bones," and he was a neighbor of former park district Executive Director Glen Ekey at his summer house in Michigan.

15. Ribbers compete each year for best ribs, best sauce and kids' choice.

16. Judges must swear an oath to defend "truth, justice, excellence in barbecue and the American way of life."

17. To celebrate the 30th anniversary, every past Ribfest chairman or chairwoman and Exchange Club president has been invited back as a judge.

18. Festival attendees annually consume between 60,000 and 70,000 pounds of ribs.

19. Last year, they also drank nearly 14,000 gallons of beer.

20. Ribfest hosted a Hispanic Day in 2014.

21. That year, organizers also launched the event's smartphone app for iPhone users.

22. New this year is the Ribfest mascot, a nearly 7-foot-tall pig in overalls, a cap and sunglasses carrying a guitar. His name is Curly Hamilton.

23. Skates, the mascot for the Chicago Wolves, will make an appearance Saturday.

24. Also new this year is a qualifier for Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Championship in Coney Island, New York. Eaters who have registered with Major League Eating will compete to down the most hot dogs and buns at 3 p.m. Saturday.

25. Also new this year is a corn-on-the-cob eating contest sponsored by Challenge Butter. The contests are scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, Sunday and Monday in front of the south stage, and 4 p.m. Saturday on the south stage. The winner will be the fastest to clear a cob of its kernels without using hands.

26. It takes nearly two weeks to set up the park before gates open.

27. Gates this year are on the north side of the park on Hillside Road; the east side on Martin Avenue; and the west side on West Street. They open at noon each day and all are accessible to people with disabilities.

28. There are six beer tents and six tents selling nonalcoholic beverages throughout the park.

29. Parking is hard to come by, so shuttles operate from five locations throughout the festival -- All Saints Academy, the Burlington parking lot near the 5th Avenue Metra station, Naperville North High School, Neuqua Valley High School and North Central College. Shuttles will run from 13 more locations on Monday for fireworks, set to blast off about 9:30 p.m.

30. When the fest is over, next year's planning begins. The club starts preparing for a fresh year every August.

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