Pretty saucy: Naperville flocks to 27th annual Ribfest

Tens of thousands of hungry music fans have flocked to the 27th annual Naperville Ribfest this weekend.

The bash at Knoch Park ends Sunday.

“I think it (the attendance) was great,” project manager George Macko said at about 4 p.m. on Friday, when the crowd was already large and the lines on “Ribber Row” were already deep with customers waiting for their favorite rib treats.

Macko credited the weather for the good turnout, saying “you’ve got to give God a little credit.”

One change to this year’s Ribfest was the addition of a stage along Ribber Row to better accommodate the musical acts that have grown in number in recent years.

“We had it a few years ago, and we decided to bring it back,” Macko said.

Friday featured 12 musical acts split between the main stage and the Ribber Row stage.

In addition to 20 different rib vendors, this year’s fest had a food court with 11 different vendors, 55 businesses manning their expo booths, and a family area offering a petting zoo, obstacle course, laser tag, jousting, a mechanical bull, a Euro bungee and a bungee run.

Ribfest began in 1987, the same year its sponsor, the Exchange Club of Naperville, was founded. Founded to help combat child abuse, the Exchange Club has raised $14 million toward the cause, last year alone donating $600,000 to 52 Naperville-area charities with proceeds from Ribfest.

Naperville Councilman Paul Hinterlong made it a point to note that the Fourth of July meant honoring veterans who’d made the ultimate sacrifice for the country, and that Ribfest represented more than just a good time on a summer day.

“This is a great event that helps the kids,” he said while waiting to get his volunteer badge.

Hinterlong’s three days of volunteering were part of an effort of 4,000 volunteers over the four-day event, aided by 150 members of the Exchange Club donating their time.

While the organizing principle of Ribfest was to raise money to fight child abuse by selling tasty ribs, the event has become known over the years as much for the music as the food.

This year’s Ribfest was no exception with nationally-known acts like the BoDeans opening the fest on Thursday and Foghat and Blue Oyster Cult closing it Sunday.

For one regular visitor, this Fourth of July held a never-to-be repeated significance.

“I was just made a citizen,” said Marjory Dore. Born and raised in Scotland, she has lived in America 28 years, and is not shy about expressing her love of the United States.

“I’m very happy,” she said. “I love this country. I come here for the wonderful music and the fireworks.”

Maureen Murphy came to hear her husband Patrick play rhythm guitar with the Hardened Bunker Rock and Soul Review.

“I love the ambiance,” she said. “And all the different people.”

Linda Kowalksi came from the Detroit area specifically to see “The Million Dollar Quartet” which played at Ribfest and Jeff Parrish came from Coal City and plans to come every day of the fest.

“I love the music, and the food,” he said.

Indeed the food was the big attraction for many.

“That is real Atlanta barbecue,” former Georgia resident Jerry Gordon said of Georgia-based Armadillo’s ribs.

Gordon said the key to great Atlanta barbecue was that the meat was cooked already in the sauce, rather than the sauce being added later.

Jay Baker agreed, saying, “It melts in your mouth … even the bone melts.”

But other vendors had their fans.

Chris Gawlik, his wife, Kayla and two sons were testing Sgt. Oink’s against other vendors and decided that Sgt. Oink’s was tops for them.

“I just like the sauce,” Chris said. “But Pigfoot’s was pretty good, too.”

Bill Wilson and Mandy Peck liked the rib sandwiches they got from Hog Wild’s.

Wilson seemed to find perspective about the event.

“I really don’t have a favorite,” he said. “They’re all good.”

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