In Hog Heaven

Inaugural Madison Ribberfest
considered a success by all accounts

By Don Ward

MADISON, Ind. (Sept. 2002) – It took Jeff Garrett and his committee a year to plan the inaugural Madison Ribberfest. The event lasted less than two days.
But most of those 6,000-plus people who attended would agree that it was worth the wait. From all accounts, it was a success.

Brad Rapp, Larry Randolph

James Baker Hall

About 3,000 pre-event tickets were sold – more than had been expected. Dozens of professional cooking teams traveled to Madison to take part in the first-ever Indiana State Championship Cook-Off, which granted the winner an automatic berth in the Kansas City Barbecue Society’s national contest.
The food was good, the music was excellent (thanks in part to an $8,000 sound stage) and the weather cooperated. A crack security team ensured that everyone paid to get in, and dozens of volunteers from as many as 45 local organizations who took part gave the event a hometown feel.
Ribberfest planners and Madison tourism officials had initially hoped of making it an annual event. Everything looked good late into Saturday afternoon. But perhaps Belterra Casino Resort general manager Alain Uboldi sealed the deal when he stepped onto the main stage and announced he would gladly sponsor the event again next year. Belterra Casino paid $10,000 this year to be the primary sponsor. Other top sponsors included Craig Toyota, RE/MAX and Shoup’s Country Foods of Franklin, Ind.
Only the balloon races, which had been scheduled for Saturday, failed to get off the ground because of dangerous upper elevation wind. The balloons did, however, show their colors during a Friday evening balloon glow on the McCoy property in Milton, Ky. The glow could be viewed from the festival area along the Madison riverfront.
In the week following the Ribberfest, the food tickets were still being counted, but officials estimated that more than $85,000 worth of food and beverages were sold.
Garrett, meanwhile, literally went into the hospital to recover. Garrett had developed a diabetic ulcer on his right foot the week of the event and spent most of the weekend in the Brown Gym trying to stay off his feet. The week following the festival, Garrett spent three nights in the hospital hooked up to an antibiotic I.V.
“There aren’t enough positive adjectives to describe the reaction I’ve gotten since the event. I’ve received over 60 emails alone,” Garrett said. “It’s been spectacular.”
Garrett, 46, a former Madison city councilman, Madison Regatta president, Chamber of Commerce president and tourism official, had previously been involved in hotel and restaurant management, and owned his own event security company in Indianapolis prior to moving back to Madison last year. Because of heart problems, he was forced to sell his business and retire early.
Once back in Madison he was tapped by tourism officials to chair the Ribberfest committee. He immersed himself in the sport, recruited local residents to become certified judges and learned the unique sport of barbecue cook-offs, traveling to events in Cairo, Ill., and Winchester, Tenn.
“I love it; and the people associated with this sport are great,” Garrett said.
Festival-goers were allowed to sample ribs, chicken, sauces and other items during the amateur and pro division cook-offs. Nick and Don Sena of Cincinnati won the amateur division.
Saturday’s pro cooking contest produced overall Grand Champion “Smokin’ in the Dark,” a Springfield, Mo., duo comprised of Larry Randolph and Brad Rapp. They edged out the second place Lee and Bobbi McWright of Nashville, Tenn.
“This is the best organized first-time barbecue event that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being associated with,” said Randolph. “The music part of it is nice because it attracts the crowd. And riverfront atmosphere is great. And there wasn’t one thing that we could think of needing that hadn’t already been provided. I’ll bet next year will be twice as big.”
Garrett is already are working on securing sponsors for next year. He wants to book the bands by January. And he hopes to double the number of pro cooking teams.
“We’re going to strike while the iron is hot,” Garrett said.
No pun intended.

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