Wichita Ribfest hopes changes entice more visitors

05/15/2014 4:08 PM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

The date change should help those who don’t like to go out on a school night.

The change in the admission structure should appease people trained by the Wichita River Festival to pay once to enter an event on multiple days.

Organizers of this weekend’s Wichita Ribfest are hoping that the two big changes to the festival – if accompanied by a much-needed break from Mother Nature – will help boost attendance from the 10,000 people who have attended the past two years to more like 15,000 or 20,000, said Christine Pileckas, the director of sales and marketing at Intrust Bank Arena, which puts on Ribfest.

“We’re kind of on a three-year plan to see how the rib festival grows and how people support it,” she said. “I think the changes we made for the third year will allow it to really grow and expand. I have strong hopes that year three is our year.”

The Ribfest, a food and music event, happens Friday through Sunday just east of Intrust Bank Arena in Lot D, the city-managed parking lot at 777 E. Waterman. Attendees with a $5 wristband can purchase barbecue meals from the six vendors set up at dramatically tall booths, each one decorated with banners proclaiming barbecue cook-off championships. The meals cost around $10 each, but prices vary from booth to booth.

Attendees also can listen to music provided by local and national acts. The festival’s headliner is country star Craig Campbell. Lots of family-friendly events are offered as well.

The first two years, the festival took place on a Thursday through Saturday. But this year, organizers shifted it to Friday through Sunday, hoping that eliminating a school night from the schedule would entice more visitors.

“Thursday wasn’t super successful,” Pileckas said. “It’s a weeknight, and it’s hard to get people out. We wanted to try Sunday, which is what a lot of other rib festivals do. We’re trying to take what was successful for other festivals and do it here.”

Ribfest organizers also took a cue from another local festival – Riverfest. Its attendees buy a $5 button that’s good for entry during the entire festival.

In previous years, Ribfest had charged people admission each day they attended. This year, a $5 wristband gets people in all three days.

“We’re going after a model that works for the Riverfest with the button,” Pileckas said. “We thought maybe this would get people coming back multiple times and checking out bands on different days.”

Organizers are happy with their music lineup, which includes 13 acts who will keep the stage occupied all day, each day. Headliner Campbell, known for his hit “Keep Them Kisses Comin,’ ” plays at 9 p.m. Friday, and Saturday’s lineup, anchored by 1980s tribute band Paramount, will have more of a rock feel. That’s by design: Many of Wichita’s country fans will be packed into Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday night for a concert by country star Brantley Gilbert.

As a tie-in to Ribfest, organizers are offering free admission all day Saturday to those with tickets to Gilbert’s show. They’re hoping concertgoers will come downtown early and enjoy a meal and a pre-party at Ribfest before going to the concert.

“Once the concert starts, we’ll transition to a rock night, and hopefully, we can bring out a whole other crowd,” Pileckas said.

The food is all prepared by national rib vendors, who travel from city to city participating in ribfests. Some own restaurants in the towns where they originate. Others are strictly on the traveling circuit. This year’s festival includes two vendors who were new last year, and they’ll serve a variety of menu items, from rib dinners with sides that cost up to $20 to a simple, pulled-pork sandwich for $8.

Family-friendly activities, which are free with admission, will include inflatables, a petting zoo, a mobile game den, archery tag on Friday and laser tag on Sunday. A classic car show will be set up from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Now Ribfest organizers must wait to see whether the weather will cooperate. Severe weather shut the festival down early on Saturday night both of its first two years.

The forecast is calling for a slight chance of showers or thunderstorms all three nights.

About Denise Neil

Denise has been an Eagle reporter since 1997. She writes about pop culture on Sundays, reviews restaurants on Fridays and blogs at Dining with Denise. Previously, she worked for the Chattanooga Times and graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.

Contact Denise at 316-268-6327 or by e-mailing dneil@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Denise on Twitter: @DeniseNeil

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