July Long Weekend Brings World-Class flavour to Victoria Park
Great BBQ That Sticks to Your Ribs
Ready to get messed up? And by that (of course) we mean getting your fingers and face covered in delicious, sticky rib sauce at London’s Ribfest & Craft Beer Festival this July long weekend! Ribfest began in 1985 and has been running ever since, bringing the best in the business from far and wide, drawing legions of BBQ enthusiasts from across Ontario to London’s Victoria Park for a day of fun, sun, beer, and carnivorous revelry. The event attracts some of North America’s most prestigious, award-winning rib vendors to town to blow minds and taste buds with their charbroiled and trademarked secrets – most of them happily handing out popsicle sticks dipped in their own brands of tangy, sweet rib sauce in an effort to entice passers-by to pony up for a rack of their best. The event is scheduled to run as follows:
Thursday, August 2 – 11 AM – 11 PM
Friday, August 3 – 11 AM – 11 PM
Saturday, August 4 – 11 AM – 11 PM
Sunday, August 5 – 11 AM – 11 PM
Monday, August 6 – 11 AM – 9 PM
The Boys and Girls Club of London ran the event practically since its inception, generating revenue for the local non-profit recreation centre for children and families. In 2008, the organization withdrew from Ribfest as the main organizer, citing challenges regarding budget and sponsorship. Concerns grew that London would be forced to cancel another summertime festival. Fortunately, in 2009, Family Shows Canada took the Ribfest helm and has steered the event to increased levels of success ever since. By 2010, the list of exhibitors had grown to over two hundred and featured cooking demonstrations, a variety of food vendors, carnival rides, and a schedule of over 100 live bands.
Big Name BBQ Brands
Each vendor’s team members work sweatily but tirelessly behind their long and massive grills, horsing around with one another, their pit-masters sassing their competition, and basically make a show of having a great time engaging with and entertaining the public. Just like the traditional southwest stockyard, it’s all about brands. Each vendor arrives with a trailer ‘shopfront’ that unfolds into a massive face-out covered with larger than life imagery and branding, letting everyone know who they are, where they’re from, and especially the awards their ribs have won. Some have favourite songs or chants that they enthusiastically participate in while they grill, each boasting without hesitation that their ribs are the very best in the world. The festival always showcases Canada’s Top 10 ‘Ribbers’ – a list of grilling gurus who come from beyond our country’s border but also include local London names like Boss Hog’s Smokin’ Chophouse. Also featured are rib rockstars like Kentucky Smokehouse, Ribs Royale, Oak and Barrel, Dinosaur Ribs, Smokehouse Bandits, Fat Boys Barbecue, and more. After Ribfest, attendees are invited to vote online for their favourites. Voting for the three-day festival opens on the Thursday of the week at 11 am and closes the following Monday at 4 pm. Winners are awarded at the Ribber Awards the following Monday evening.
Other Menu Items
It’s important to note that ribs aren’t the only thing on the menu, so don’t let the event’s focus give you the wrong idea. At Ribfest, the paved paths of Victoria Park are lined every year with a wide variety of food vendors. Indian? Fish and chips? BBQ chicken? Poutine? Roasted cobs of corn are a usual favourite. There is no shortage of alternative options if ribs aren’t exactly your thing. Everything from falafel to deep-fried mac and cheese is available to attendees. How about a fruit smoothie or a frozen yogurt to help beat the heat? London’s Ribfest truly offers something for everyone. The promoter responsible for the success of the event each year is Doug Hiller. Quoted in the London Free Press, Hiller says that pulled-pork is a popular menu item that goes hand-in-hand with Ribfest’s glorification of grilling greatness.
London Craft Beer Festival
The addition of the first annual London Craft Beer Festival to the Ribfest in 2018 is sure to massively increase the attendance. Organizers obviously saw the benefit in bringing two great elements together simply because they cater to the same audience. Beer can be purchased with tokens available at the festival. At Ribfest, the beer garden will be in full effect, complete with tabled seating, canopy coverage, live entertainment, washroom facilities (located alongside Victoria Park’s historic bandshell structure), and some of the best suds this side of the Belgian border. 2018 is also the first year that the event will feature a series of hard craft sodas. Growing brands like Draught Dodger, Landshark, Railway City, London Brewing Co-op, Forked River, and Cowbell will be slinging their suds. Anderson Craft Ales – who took a silver at The Canadian Brewing Awards this year – will be present. A selection of wine and coolers will also be available for sampling. “Generally, at a Ribfest, beer and ribs go hand in hand,” says Hiller. “Beer is a big thing.” And it’s available on tap. After all, what are world-class ribs without a top-notch, frothy brew to wash them down with? The last several years have seen London emerge as one of the craft brew capitals of the Canadian beer scene. “We’re bringing like-minded people together who like to party and like their ribs,” says Hillier in The London Free Press. “It just couldn’t be any better. Throw in some country and blues music and Ribfest just can’t get any better.”
As is the case with each of London’s summertime celebrations, Ribfest doesn’t just offer attendees plenty to eat, but also plenty to do. The Stihl Timbersports Canadian Championship will noisily showcase the best axe-throwing and chainsaw-sculpting talents from all over Canada for the amazement of the crowd. Attendees can participate in a wide array of backyard-style games, with a few next-gen additions. Test your wooden brick-balancing chops against a friend in Giant Jenga. Think you’re tough? The festival’s arm-wrestling competition hosted by the London Arm Wrestling Team is always a crowd-pleaser! Prizes to be announced. Culture more your thing? Then be sure to check out Expressions in Chalk, a street mural painting competition conducted in full view for the enjoyment of the public. The showcase takes place on the concrete ice pad in front of the bandshell. As a new demonstration happening this year, the festival’s Art in the Park showcase will feature area artists creating and selling their work as part of a demonstration exhibition throughout the park. Chalk artists are invited to apply here. If everyone wants you on their team when it’s time to play drinking games, you should definitely get in on the Canadian Beer Pong Championship. Winners receive cash prizes, with the best team earning a trip for themselves and their team to the Beer Pong World Series in Las Vegas! Prizes will also be awarded for best team t-shirt and best costume. Register your team here. Why not have an out-of-body experience with the newest addition to Ribfest’s attraction lineup – virtual reality! Apparently, the festival will feature a number of interactive, virtual reality exhibits that are free of charge. Organizers insist that they take no responsibility if your “mind is blown” after these incredible and immersive experiences. As per tradition, Ribfest will also feature all of your carnival ride favourites like the Ferris wheel and the immortal tilt-o-whirl to allow attendees to either relax or have a rush – whichever they prefer. A $25 dollar bracelet gains access to all rides all day long. Parents ride for free with children aged 13 years or younger.
No festival is complete without a rotating schedule of awesome entertainers, and Ribfest is no exception. From DJs to bands to solo performers, the festival stages will feature talent all day long with a little something for everyone. Folk, roots, rock, country, and pop are all on the menu this year at Ribfest, starting at 2 pm each day with headlining acts slated to close out each night at 9:30 pm. On Monday at 1 pm, attendees are welcome to sing their hearts out karaoke-style with backing from a live band! On the same day at 4:30 pm, the Local London Showcase will present a number of London’s most talented up-and-comers in the area music scene, wrapping up at 9 pm – the official conclusion of Ribfest. — Head to Victoria Park this long July weekend and take advantage of the opportunity to sample incredible tastes that only come to town once a year. While there is always plenty of seating in the beer garden, attendees are encouraged to bring their own picnic blankets and lawn chairs so that they are comfortable eating and enjoying the entertainment. Summertime can bring record-level heat. Victoria Park offers some canopy coverage underneath its sizable trees, but remember to bring sunscreen and plenty of water to avoid sunstroke and dehydration. Having attended Rifest in the past should not preclude a return visit. Organizers go to great lengths to ensure that the entertainment is fresh, that the food vendors are of the very highest quality around and are always looking to add new features, exhibits, demonstrations, and activities each and every year, giving every Ribfest audience its own identity with unique memories shared by all who attend.