Last year was the first year for the Wichita Ribfest — a sticky, saucy three-day gathering of professional rib vendors from around the country — and it was a near-complete success, said Christine Pileckas, Intrust Bank Arena’s director of sales and marketing.
The only setback was dealt by Mother Nature, who delivered a stormy, windy night that forced Intrust Bank Arena officials, who put on the event, to cancel the final night of activities.
It kept the attendance tally at about 10,000, which was 5,000 short of what the arena hoped for.
If the weather behaves better this year, though, Pileckas says the festival should have no trouble drawing a big crowd, especially since organizers have done a little Ribfest tweaking based on lessons and feedback from the first go-round.
Ribfest, which started on Thursday, continues through Saturday and will be set up just east of Intrust Bank Arena in Lot D, the city-managed parking lot at 777 E. Waterman. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Barbecue and music fans pay $4 at the entrance and then 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 less than $10, but prices vary from booth to booth. Kids 12 and under get in free, and attendees can get in for $2 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday.
Visitors also can listen to music provided by local and national acts. The festival’s headliners are country acts Keith Anderson, who plays at 9 p.m. Friday, and Phil Vassar, who performs at 4 p.m. Saturday. In all, 14 bands will perform by the festival’s end.
Pileckas said that organizers are excited about Saturday night’s lineup, which will feature back-to-back performances by two Mexican bands — Grupo Flamante De Tierra Caliente and Kazzadorez — from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. A similar lineup was planned last year, but the weather got in the way.
Based on feedback from the first year, organizers have added several other activities to make the event feel more festival-like, Pileckas said.
On Saturday, the first 500 kids through the gates can participate in a Home Depot Kid’s Workshop, in which they assemble and decorate a tool box. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., a classic car show will be set up inside the gates, and spectators can watch teams participate in a cornhole tournament, which is a beanbag toss game.
For an extra $5, kids can get unlimited access to bouncy inflatables, and admission is free to the Pepsi Sport Zone, where participants can hit a baseball, throw a football or shoot a basketball.
“This year, our main focus was adding more interactive activities so people have something to do after they get their ribs and watch the bands on stage,” Pileckas said.
The arena also is trying to erase confusion from the festival’s debut year. Many people who attended assumed that the festival was organized like the annual Wagon Masters Chili Cookoff and arrived planning to sample all the vendors’ ribs. But that would only happen if visitors bought a plate from each booth.
Last year, it appeared that folks chose their vendor based on who had the prettiest booth or the longest line.
A panel of local judges will choose rib winners based on the ribs’ tenderness, texture and taste, and a people’s choice winner will be named, too.