Naperville Ribfest Highlights – Great Ribs, Great Cause

Ribs, Beer, Music, Independence Day.  Mix in hometown charm, good friends, and gorgeous weather, and you have this year’s Naperville Ribfest, organized by the Naperville Exchange Club and a whole host of sponsors.


BBQ Vendors

Confession time:  I live in Naperville and I’ve been to the Ribfest numerous times.  I tried to approach it as a newbie and understand how to navigate and make the best of one of Chicagoland’s premiere summer festivals.  It’s huge, people.  Not Taste of Chicago ginormous, but big-time.  And the best part is that all the proceeds go to the fifty-plus child-oriented charities that the Naperville Exchange Club supports.  According to their website (here), they have raised over fourteen million dollars since they organized in 1987, much of which comes out of Ribfest.  That’s a lot of baby back ribs, folks.


Ribs and Beer

Ribfest takes place just south of downtown Naperville on baseball and athletic fields transformed into two distinct corrals of activity.  On the North side, the main music stage can be found, with food vendors, a big sponsor section, and other vendors hawking their products and services.  New this year is an International Beer Tasting event held two of the four days at an added cost.  The main stage hosted acts such as Sammy Hagar and the Circle, Kelly Pickler, The Band Perry, and Paul Rogers (formerly of Bad Company).  I was able to attend the Sammy Hagar show, and it was a terrific crowd-pleaser.  Pickler was also a delight.  Other more local bands played throughout the day.


View of the Sammy Hagar Crowd

Rock Stars in the Making

On the South side of the venue, all the Rib vendors/contestants fed long lines of rib lovers.  Each vendor showed off their trophies along with their unique BBQ sauces.  There was other food and beer vendors, and a smaller stage that hosted a Fiesta Latina 2015 day as well as many other local bands in a variety of genres.  The South side also provided a kid area with activities and bouncy fun going all day, and a carnival with rides and games for kids and adults alike.  There was a tent near the rib vendors that provided tables people to eat while listening to tunes and talking with their friends and family members.


Some of the Junk Food Available

Kid games

So what did I learn about how to “do Ribfest?”   Here is my best advice for next year:

  • DO try multiple Rib vendors, especially if you attend multiple days.  The winners were Desperados this year.  I especially liked the offerings from the Texas Outlaws.  Get the combo meals and share with your friends if you have that opportunity.
  • DO bring chairs and get them settled somewhere in front of the music you want to listen to early.  This is Naperville – you can set them down and forget them until you need them.  Blankets also work.  The music can be loud, so don’t expect have deep conversations while listening to the various artists.
  • DON’T expect to park close.  Check the Ribfest website to park in the remote lots and take the shuttles.  We never had an issue with the shuttles being available when we went and frankly, we left a little early from the concerts to ensure we got a shuttle back to where we parked. 
  • DO make the trip out from Chicago.  There is a shuttle in the parking lot at the Naperville train stop.  It’s just that easy!
  • DO think twice about trying to do the “free admission” on July 4th for fireworks.  We left around the time they were letting people in and the line was blocks and blocks long.  I can’t imagine what it was like inside.   If you love fireworks, go early, pay the admission and set up your chair.  And be patient when you are waiting to shuttle out of there.
  • DON’T miss all the fun vendors with free stuff.  I got free dried fruit, Rolaids, sunscreen, chocolate covered pomegranate seeds, pizza slices, water, and other stuff I forget.  Fun!
  • DO consider meandering back to downtown Naperville and check out the riverwalk, the shops, and the restaurants that mark the thriving Naperville economy.  And come back again!

This year I had the holy BBQ trinity: baby back ribs, pulled pork shoulder, and beef brisket.  And LOTS of BBQ sauce.  It was delicious paired with ice cold lite beer (you gotta save somewhere, right?).    I never got to the corn on the cob, or the funnel cakes, or some of other fun fair foods like deep fried snickers – but there’s always next year

Photos: Courtesy of Robin Kuss

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