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Ribfest: Mecca for fans of BBQ and blues

By Jim Fester

Fort Wayne Reader


Fort Wayne is a wait-and-see town. Nine times out of 10, if you give us a good idea, and we’ll look at it, study it, consider it, and if it sticks around for a while, we’ll think about embracing it.

But the annual BBQ Ribfest was that one time in 10 where things just worked. Now in its 9th year, the BBQ Ribfest — a four-day event packed with top-notch blues music and BBQ — was a hit right from the start. According to festival organizer Mark Chappuis, the festival’s success is no big mystery. “It’s simple: human beings love great BBQ. When it comes to BBQ, there is no common denominator. Everyone loves it.”

Actually, if there were a festival destined for immediate appeal with the populace of Fort Wayne, it’s probably RibFest — four days of delicious, slow smoked barbecue from national award winning cooking teams as well as a few Fort Wayne favorites like Griffin’s. Who wouldn’t like that?

In addition to the ribs, giant pulled pork and beef sandwiches, slow roasted BBQ Chicken, and slow-smoked brisket, there’s also the entertainment, a line-up of top local and national blues talent, including Joe Bonamassa and Anthony Gomes.

Chappuis says he’s always prided himself on being able to offer some of the best blues talent around, but thinks that the 9th annual RibFest has really raised the bar. “These are really what I would call ‘progressive blues’ type guys,” Chappuis says. “I think these are the guys that are carrying the blues to the next generation. We’ve kinda gone from ‘I woke up and found my dog dead and my wife with the garbage man’ blues, to these guys who are taking it in the Stevie Ray Vaughn direction. This is a little more hard charging, a little more rock-oriented.”

Fans of the more traditional blues won’t be left out in the cold: Louisiana Hall-of-Famer Larry Garner will be there, plus local legend G. Money and the Fabulous Rhythm Kids. What they all have in common is making and playing party music. “I think most people are blues fans, but most people don’t realize they’re blues fans,” says Chappuis, who reveals himself to be a true aficionado of the genre when talking about the bands at this year’s RibFest. “I almost defy most people to not be able to come down and relate to this music and enjoy it and find you’re not tapping your feet or out on the dance floor. The blues has a negative connotation, but all I can tell you is that this blues line-up this year is anything but down and out blues. It is party blues.”

RibFest was inspired by a barbeque-centric festival Chappuis and his wife visited in Toledo many years ago. Over 12 thousand people showed up to the first festival in Fort Wayne, according to Chappuis, and in subsequent years it has just kept growing into what he calls Fort Wayne’s biggest family picnic. “As long as we continue to offer a safe, clean fun festival with great food and great family entertainment, we are going to continue to grow this event,” he says.

Chappuis also sees the event as a way to give back to the community where he’s spent most of his life. RibFest has been affiliated with schools and other organizations like Scout Troop #8 for years. The kids serve as ticket-takers and “pop-sellers,” an arrangement that has worked out very well for both parties. “We could probably save a little money based on some of the quotes we’ve got, but it is a community event,” Chappuis says. “We do want to give back to the schools. Scout troop #8 has been with us since year one. It’s been fun to be able to watch those kids grow up and write a nice check for them.”

Chappuis adds that he’d like to see RibFest become a regional event. “The mission for downtown these days is: ‘let’s get people downtown!’ And we know we’re putting a bunch of heads in beds because I get calls all the time from people coming from Chicago or Indy.”

9th Annual BBQ RibFest
Headwaters Park, Fort Wayne Indiana
June 15 - 18, 2006

Free Admission Thursday – Saturday until 5:00
Nominal cover after 5:00pm. FREE ALL DAY, Father’s Day, June 18th
For tickets, line-up, and other info, check out www.bbqribfest.com

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