Blues & Barbecue

Madison Ribberfest has become
one of summer’s favorite events

Ronnie Baker Brooks, Walter Trout
to headline this year’s festival

(August 2018)
Read previous Don Ward columns!

Don Ward

(August 2018) Entering its 17th year, the Madison Ribberfest blues and barbecue festival in Madison, Ind., continues to thrive as one of Madison’s most successful and popular festivals. This year’s event is set for Friday-Saturday, Aug. 17-18, at Madison Bicentennial Park and will feature two popular headliners: Walter Trout on Friday night and Ronnie Baker Brooks on Saturday night. Brooks performed as the festival’s headliner in 2011.
“We’re really excited about this year’s festival and to have Ronnie Baker Brooks coming back to Madison. He’s very high energy and a real crowd pleaser,” said Ribberfest coordinator Kathy Ayers. She is paid by VisitMadison Inc. to oversee the festival and is helped by a large group of committed volunteers.
“We have such a great committee of volunteers,” Ayers said. “And going into our 17th year, this is such a well-oiled machine. The committee loves it, the community loves it and the blues fans love it.”

Photo by Don Ward

Participants in last year’s Madison Courier Backyard Blast line up for a team meeting prior to turning in their judged entries of meats, sauces and other items.

The two-day event features the Madison Courier Backyard BBQ Blast amateur barbecue cooking contest on Friday and the pro contest, the Indiana State Championship Barbeque Cook-Off, on Saturday that is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The pros cook throughout Friday night and begin turning in their entries for judging at 11 a.m. Saturday. Judging takes place inside the Brown Gym on Broadway Street.
The pro contest usually pushes 60 teams, but this year’s contest is being limited to 55 teams because Elm Street is under construction and will not be available, according to KCBS pro contest chairman Ken Schneider. “We usually put about seven teams on Elm Street, and we won’t be able to do that this year.”
Last year’s event had 56 teams. The most ever was 63 teams a few years ago, Schneider said.
Entry into the pro contest is $275 per team. Entry into the amateur contest is $25. The pro contest awards more than $12,000 in prize money, with the top 10 teams in each cooking category receiving cash awards.
Pro teams compete in four meat categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork and beef brisket. It takes more than 70 KCBS-certified judges to determine the winners. The overall Grand Champion receives a wooden plaque and $2,650. The Reserve Grand Champion (second place) receives a wooden plaque and $1,625. The Grand Champion also earns a trip to the 2019 KCBS American Royal in Kansas City. The team is also entered into a drawing of eight other Indiana KCBS competition winners to determine a berth in the Jack Daniels Barbeque Championship in Lynchburg, Tenn.
The popularity of the pro cooking event and the amateur event 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.
As of Aug. 9 there were 50 teams registered for the pro contest. Three past Grand Champion teams – Grey Street BBQ, ButtRub.com and Bark Brothers BBQ – are returning. Nathan Dexter of Grey Street BBQ in Avon, Ind., is returning to defend his title.
Meantime, 33 amateur teams had registered as of Aug. 9. The Backyard Blast, held on Vaughn Drive just east of the festival gates, is chaired by Steve Thomas and, like the pro contest, attracts teams from mostly Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
The “Kidz Q” contest, meanwhile, allows youngsters and teens a chance to test their grilling skills in two age groups – 8-11 and 12-15. The event takes place at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at the gazebo area on the Madison riverfront. Entry is $10. This year, contestants will be allowed to choose their grilling meat but the entry must contain bacon. The winners in each age category will receive a $200 cash scholarship. The second place in each category will receive a $100 cash scholarship. As of Aug. 9, there were two entrants in the 8-11 age group and three entrants in the 12-15 age group.
Entry forms and information for all cooking events may be found at www.MadisonRibberfest.com.
In addition to blues and barbecue, the festival offers many other activities. These include Ohio River riverboat cruises, a 5K run, a free 60-mile bicycle ride, and a Run-Then-Ride event. The Piglet Pen play place for children and a Pig Toss corn hole tournament also return.
There is also the popular Pigmania, a concrete pig decorating contest held among local businesses that raises money for a scholarship. The colorful and creative concrete pigs are set up at the west end of Vaughn Drive inside the festival gates, where visitors can “vote” for their favorite design.
Ayers said the committee also needs volunteer workers to help set up during festival week. Anyone volunteering three or more hours will receive a free admission wristband. To volunteer, call Ayers at (812) 701-0127. Also, as of Aug. 9, there was one VIP tent still available. The cost is $800 and it comes with 10 admission wristbands.

Ribberfest committee members want to remind people that chairs will not be allowed to be set up inside Madison Bicentennial Park before the gates open on Friday or 11 a.m. Saturday.

• 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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