Entering its 16th year, the Madison Ribberfest blues and barbecue festival in Madison, Ind., has reached a point where its success threatens to outgrow the space on the riverfront at Bicentennial Park.
Ribberfest Director Kathy Ayers, who is in her 15th year leading the festival, has worried that the growing crowds will exceed the fire marshal’s legal limit of people filling the gated amphitheater area.
Those concerns may be valid once again this year when the popular national group Los Lobos takes the Blues Bash stage on Saturday night, Aug. 19. With its cover hit of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and other tunes, the group is sure to draw a large crowd to the Madison riverfront.
Pick up our Madison Ribberfest Guide in Mid-August!
Los Lobos, which hails from East Los Angeles, returns to Madison after last year’s much anticipated performance as the headliner was rained out. Last year’s inclement weather on Saturday night also interrupted and eventually forced the cancellation of The Downchild Blues Band, which had preceded Los Lobos in the lineup. The Downchild Blues Band also is returning this year to perform and precede Los Lobos at the Aug. 18-19 festival.
“We had many calls from fans after last year’s festival wanting to know if we were going to bring back Los Lobos,” Ayers said. “So when we called them, they said yes. They loved Madison and the venue and were eager to return. It was the easiest sale we made.”
Texas native Delbert McClinton will headline the Friday night docket. He played Ribberfest in 2010 as the headliner and drew a large crowd.
Blues Bash lineup
Friday, Aug. 18
• 6 p.m.: Jason Ricci & the Bad Kind
• 8 p.m.: Ana Popovic
• 10 p.m.: Delbert McClinton
Saturday, Aug. 19
• 11:30 a.m.: Bob Lafary Trio
• 1:30 p.m.: Toad Strangler
• 3:30 p.m.: The Claudettes
• 5:30 p.m.: Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hell Raisers
• 7:30 p.m.: The Downchild Blues Band
• 9:30 p.m.: Los Lobos
• Admission wristbands: $30 in advance or $35 at the gates both days.
Purchase online at www.MadisonRibberfest.com.• Information: 1-800-559-2956 or (812) 265-2956
As a result of its success, Madison Ribberfest has increased the price of admission for the first time in 12 years. Advanced admission wristbands have risen from $25 to $30 for both days and are available through Wednesday, Aug. 16. Admission wristbands purchased at the gates on Friday or Saturday will be $35. If purchased at the gate on Friday, they are good for both days.
The decision to raise the price was questioned by some tourism board members last spring, especially in the wake of last year’s cancellation of the biggest two acts on Saturday night due to the storm. But Ayers explained the decision, saying, “We’re paying triple the cost for bands than we were 12 years ago. And all of our costs have gone up.”
Those early birds who purchased their wristbands in July were still able to get $10 in food and beverage coupons up until Aug. 1.
“The food coupons seem to be a real pleaser, and we have done well in advanced sales, even with the price increase,” Ayers said.
The music, the venue, the director and her large all-volunteer staff are certainly to credit for Ribberfest’s success. There has been a waiting list for VIP tents for years, and the number of barbecue pro cooking teams entered in the Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned contest pushes 60 teams each year. The popularity of that event and the Madison Courier Backyard BBQ Blast, an amateur barbecue cooking event on Friday night, allow many local residents and visitors to participate in the fun. And perhaps the best part for the crowd is to line up for samplings of barbecue chicken, beef and pork after the teams have turned in their judged entries.
Photo courtesy of David Alan Kogut
Los Lobos is a crowd favorite and returns to Madison to headline at this year’s Ribberfest Blues Bash. Their performance was rained out last year.
“We can take up to 65 teams, but that is very hard to do because of the limited space we have and the electrical needs involved,” said Ken Schneider, the Ribberfest’s former KCBS director who is still on the event committee but now works as a certified KCBS judge.
Schneider noted that one pro team is coming from as far away as California. “I think we will even have a team come from overseas someday,” he said. Two members of the Madison-based ACME BBQ team – Pat Stack and Paul Rosenberg – competed in a barbecue cooking event in Belgium in June.
Drew Garrett, whose late father Jeff Garrett conceived and founded the event in 2002, now serves as the KCBS event chairman, while his mother, Lisa, is a certified KCBS judge. Garrett confirmed in late July that 53 teams had registered at $275 each for the pro cooking contest, known as the Indiana State Championship Barbecue Cook-Off. Two past Grand Champion teams – ButtRub.com and Bark Brothers BBQ – are returning, however last year’s winner, Eat Mor Butt BBQ from Ferdinand, Ind., is not returning.
As of late July, 17 amateur teams had paid the $25 entry fee to register for the Backyard BBQ Blast. That event is chaired by Steve Thomas and, like the pro contest, attracts teams from mostly Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
The “Kidz Q” contest allows children and teens a chance to test their grilling skills in two age groups – 8-11 and 12-15.
In addition to blues and barbecue, the festival offers many other activities. These include Ohio River cruises, a 5K run and walk, bicycle rides at three different distances, a Run-Then-Ride event, an on-site zip line, a concrete pig decorating contest among local businesses that raises money for scholarships, a Piglet Pen play place for children and a Pig Toss corn hole tournament.
One final note about this year’s band lineup: Bob Lafary of the Bob Lafary Trio died April 29 at his Versailles, Ind., home at age 65. Despite the loss, the other two band members, Sonny Hill (keyboard, bass, vocals) and Jim Sanders (guitar), plan to find a third musician to join them on stage to open the festival on Friday afternoon. They are still listed as the Bob Lafary Trio in the lineup, however, they may later change the name of the group, Ayers said.
Away from music, Lafary previously managed numerous hotels and restaurants throughout southern Indiana, was a former employee and coach in the South Ripley Community School Corp. in Versailles, and was a licensed IHSAA baseball and softball umpire. He was an inductee of the Southeast Indiana Musicians Hall of Fame.
She contacted the band in the wake of Lafary’s death, but they were insistent up on playing, Ayers reported. “They said that Bob was looking forward to playing Ribberfest so much that even talked about it the night before he died,” Ayers she said she was told.
Lafary spent his career as a professional musician for 53 years and more specifically a professional drummer. He founded his first band the Steppin Stones as a teenager and in recent years headed the Bob Lafary Trio, playing several venues in the tri-state area, including Madison.
• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.
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