Eat, play and listen to the music at annual Ribfest

Naperville's annual "party with a purpose" returns Fourth of July weekend with ribs, music and children's activities.

The 29th annual Naperville Ribfest will be from noon to 10 p.m. July 1-4 at Knoch Park in Naperville.

"We're hoping to surpass over $15 million given to charity," said Ray Kinney, marketing and public relations chairman for Ribfest. "To date, we've given away $14.5 million. All of the money goes to eliminate child abuse and domestic violence."

Musical headliners this year include Three Doors Down on July 1, Sister Hazel and Sheryl Crow on July 2, Craig Campbell and Lee Brice on July 3 and Tonic and the Gin Blossoms on July 4.

While those acts will appear on the Navistar Main Stage, they've added another stage to the event this year, Kinney said.

"We've added a Show Wagon Stage in the north food court, which is really more for community-type groups to perform," he said.

That's where you will find groups like the McNulty Irish Dancers, a group of musicians called the Riverwalk Pickers, and other local musicians and dancers.

The One Main Financial Stage is where you'll find local and regional bands, including one of the Chicago area's most famous bands, The Ides of March, at 8 p.m. July 3.

Something new this year is an eating contest.

"For the first time ever, we're going to do a corn on the cob eating contest every day at Ribfest. That should be fun," he said. "Other than that, we're back with a lot of the same great ribs, great music and good beer."

The music has always been an important component of Ribfest, and he's excited about this year's lineup.

"There are some really good bands throughout the park throughout the weekend," Kinney said.

On July 1, bands include 1990s era rockers Moon Taxi and Three Doors Down. Saturday features Sister Hazel opening for Sheryl Crow. Sunday's main act is Lee Brice with opener Craig Campbell.

"And on Monday we're doing a show called Gin and Tonic — Gin Blossoms and Tonic," he said. "We're very happy with the musical selection. And what we try to do on the One Main Financial Stage is to balance it. So we're having classic rock … and blues. We're doing blues and barbecue on the Fourth of July."

Some of the bands on the One Main Financial Stage include King and Cash and Heartsfield on Friday; JJ and Dre and 3 AM on Saturday; The Millennials and Lil Red and the Howlin' Wolves on Sunday; and Black Cat Bone with Bob Neis and Toronzo Cannon on Monday.

The fireworks extravaganza begins around 9:30 p.m., Kinney said, and will be simulcast to music on 104.3-FM.

"This is a very family-focused festival, so every day from noon to 3 p.m., you can get in for $12. And kids 11 and under are always free at Ribfest," he said. "From noon to 3 p.m., we're having $10 carnival (wristbands). So you buy a wristband for $10, and you have unlimited carnival rides."

Even within the Naperville Bank and Trust Family Area, which is located near the carnival, there is a stage where you will find magicians, jugglers and other entertainers, he said.

"And that's all free once you're in the park," Kinney said. "There's stuff for the kids all over the park. There's water guns, laser tag, a petting zoo. The Cold-Blooded Creatures guy is coming and he has snakes and that type of stuff for kids to (look) at. It's a very family-friendly area."

Ribs are an essential part of celebrating America's birthday, and there will be 12 vendors this year.

"The thing about the rib vendors, although a lot of them are the same (from year to year), it's not the same winner every year," Kinney said. "They're always tweaking their recipes and trying different things and different sauces. They do compete for cash prize, trophies and bragging rights."

The vendors compete in three categories: Best Ribs, Best Sauce and Kid's Choice. If you don't like ribs, there are more than 40 other food vendors to choose from, he said, with options like bison sliders, veggie wraps, jumbo turkey legs, Texas nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, walking tacos and blooming onions.

"The Lions Club of Naperville has a booth there and they sell elephant ears, and they use it as a major fundraiser for their efforts and the charities they support," Kinney said. "Ribfest really is about food, music and fun, but it's also about the kids and giving back to great causes."

Last year, they tried a craft beer tasting, which worked OK, he said. Apparently not well enough to bring back, which is why they're trying something else.

"This year … we have a premium beer tent," Kinney said. "If you don't like Miller Lite or want to have something different, we've got 10 different beers in there. It's not a tasting, it's just a place where you can go buy beer. And that's by the Show Wagon Stage, so we're going to have some entertainment up there and a little bit higher premium beer."

Back again are the front-stage reserved standing area for the bands.

"It's a standing-room only area, but it's right in front of the stage," Kinney said. "For those that are true big music fans, you've got to be up front and see the artist that close, we've created a way for them to do that. Others love the festival atmosphere and just want to sit in their lawn chair and eat some ribs and enjoy the night."

Some tips include: coming early to get the noon-3 p.m. carnival special. Also, park in one of the remote lots sprinkled around Naperville (check the website for locations) and take one of the free shuttle buses that will run every 15 minutes throughout each day of the fest.

"It's hot and there's not a lot of shade, so make sure you bring a hat and sunscreen and drink plenty of fluids throughout the day," he said.

Annie Alleman is a freelance writer.

Naperville Ribfest

When: July 1-4

Where: Knoch Park, 724 S. West St., Naperville

Tickets: $12 for noon-3 p.m. daily; $20 all day; $25 July 2; front of stage $50-$60

Information: 630-259-1129; Ribfest.net

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