Ribfest fans enjoy opening day, will be sad to see festival leave Naperville's Knoch Park
Longtime friends Nicholas Sloan and Matt Boutcher have made Ribfest in Naperville a tradition, just like thousands of others through the decades, as the festival has turned into a Fourth of July mainstay.
And like many on the grounds Wednesday afternoon during the opening moments of the 32nd annual event, Sloan and Boutcher said they will be sad to see it go.
Ribfest, presented by the Exchange Club of Naperville, must move out of Knoch Park near downtown after this year to allow for construction and increased sport use at the site. It's expected to move to Romeoville beginning in 2020.
"We're so sad to have it move," said Sandy Rocush, an Exchange Club member and co-chairwoman of this year's event. "We'll see what the future brings."
The future for Sloan and Boutcher -- at least on Wednesday -- was certain to include pork.
Their game plan?
"Get here when it opens on the first day," said Boutcher, of Springfield. "Enjoy as many ribs as we can."
"Then go into a food coma," said Sloan, of Chicago, pausing as the friends dove into a half slab from Texas Outlaws Bar-B-Que.
Once Sloan and Boutcher discovered their love for Ribfest, they found the perfect parking place and snapped a photo of it to remember from year to year.
But when volunteers close the Ribfest gates Saturday night after the last Bad Company fans exit, the familiarity of Knoch Park -- where the fundraiser has taken place for 31 of its 32 years -- will be gone. And so will Sloan and Boutcher's well-researched parking spot.
"We're not going to be used to the same setup," Sloan said.
Gone as well will be the place where Kari Gruber often celebrated the Fourth of July during two decades growing up in Naperville, and the place where her family's company, Lombard-based Bricks Wood Fired Pizza, got to set up a food truck Wednesday.
As she placed blankets and chairs down on the lawn to save her family's spot for the Billy Idol concert, Gruber said it's a special thing to be part of Ribfest's "Last Nights at Knoch."
"I'm so sad to see it go. But you know what? Off to bigger things," she said. "There's pluses and minuses (to moving), so whatever's best for the community, we've got to support it."
Nearby, Mike Richardson of Naperville and his friend Rick Colvin of Springfield were greeted with applause when they gave the first tip of the day at the beer tent nearest the main stage. The pair said they bought tickets in advance to see Billy Idol and relax with a brew or two, and they didn't want the Ribfest experience to end.
"They're denying us our Ribfest," Richardson said.
When the festival leaves, organizers say they want to maintain its main elements, including the big-name concerts, the carnival, and of course, the fundraising for charities that work to end child abuse and domestic violence.
But some people fear something will be lost when Knoch Park is no longer the venue.
"It's kind of sad," Brenda Augustine of Naperville said of the coming move, as she watched her granddaughters enjoy the petting zoo from under the shade of a tent. "I think it'll never be the same."
Longtime ribbers whose festival travels include a stop in Naperville each year also said they're sad.
"I kind of want to keep it here," said Israel Oliver with Desperado's BBQ & Rib Co. as he handed out neon pink "Lick My Ribs" stickers and promoted his beef ribs, a signature item. "But we've got to go with the times. Times are changing."
Ribfest's move from Knoch Park is necessary because the Naperville Park District plans to add new features, including an improved softball field and a new turf field for soccer, lacrosse and football.
The event's "Last Nights at Knoch" continue from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday through Saturday.