Wet naps will be in high demand in downtown London, Ont. this weekend as the city’s annual RibFest heats up in Victoria Park.
The festival, which opens Thursday and runs until Monday, a civic holiday, marks the first time a full-sized London RibFest has been held in the park since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
No RibFest was held in 2020 and last year’s was pared down as a result of the pandemic, utilizing only a fenced-off area in the southeast quadrant of the park. While Ribber’s Row was in its usual spot on Wellington Street, there were fewer vendors and no midway rides.
That won’t be the case this year, said Doug Hillier, president of Family Shows Canada, which puts on the London RibFest.
“This is going to be like the old days before COVID … (with) lots of vendors. That’s coming back. Unlike the one we had to do last year with just the ribbers, now we have the ribbers and all the other food vendors in the park,” he said.
Ten of Canada’s top ribbers will be back, lined up along Wellington competing against one another for the festival’s top prize.
“(They) compete all year long in ribfests all over Canada, and then London, the first ribfest ever in Canada, hosts the top 10 ribbers,” Hillier said.
Among those competing are Boss Hogs, Louisiana BBQ, Kentucky Smokehouse, Oak & Barrel, Texas Jack’s, Smokehouse Bandits, Fat Boys BBQ, Silver Bullet BBQ, Gonzalez BBQ and BubbaLou’s, which Hillier says was started by someone who helped found RibFest.
London’s RibFest began in the late 1980s and served as a fundraiser for the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of London, which organized the event. The club ended its involvement with the festival in 2008, and Hillier and Family Shows Canada took over shortly after.
In addition to the 10 ribbers, Hillier says this year’s RibFest will see approximately 50 vendors in the park, along with rides and live entertainment and other food options for those who may not like barbecue or ribs.
“We’re seeing very high traffic and what we’re not seeing is duplicate booths. So in the past, we would have a lot of vendors that have have a couple of booths. Now we have vendors that are only bringing in one,” he said.
“They don’t have a second unit, but they’re coming in, and that’s because of COVID…. You’re finding that they don’t have enough staff to staff the second booths that they usually have.”
A craft beer festival within RibFest will see more than a dozen local and regional breweries and beverage makers doling out refreshments to barbecue fans, including London-based Anderson Craft Ales, Bangarang, Heeman’s and Powerhouse.
Midway rides will be making a return to the RibFest, however, they won’t be along Dufferin Avenue as they have been in years past. This year, rides will be situated in the middle of Victoria Park to keep Dufferin open for a BRT construction-related detour.
Live entertainment will also be on hand, with a full lineup from Thursday to Monday. Destroyer will headline on Friday night, Rebel Few on Saturday, Twin Fin on Sunday and Butch Haller and his Chesterfield Ramblers on Monday.
Hillier said organizers were anticipating a high turnout like that seen at other Victoria Park festivals this year, with Londoners getting out of the house and taking in downtown festivals for the first time since 2019.
“Come with a happy mood, because there’s so many happy vendors here to be back and you’re going to feel it. You’re going to feel the happiness here and the joy of being back at it,” he said.
The short-term forecast calls for a 30 per cent chance of rain on Thursday with sunny skies Friday through Monday with highs between 26 and 30 C.
More information can be found on the London RibFest website.