The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 20, 2021 1:00 am

Crowds leave home for comfort of BBQ Ribfest

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Birthday girl Yteria Smith didn't have a clue Saturday that another celebration was planned as she sat with family at a big round table at BBQ Ribfest, enjoying the food and the blues band onstage. 

“Normally we're here all night,” said Yvette Smith, one of her kin.

Taking Yteria to Ribfest for her birthday has become a family tradition, but Saturday night there was another party for her on the city's south side – and it was a surprise. 

“She thinks she's going home to sleep,” Yvette Smith said. 

The Smith clan comes for the ribs, particularly those cooked by local restaurateur Shigs in Pit, and the music. Asked what band the clan preferred, Yvette's answer was simple: “We like them all.” 

The Headwaters Park festival in its 24th year is operated by Mark and Cindy Chappuis and has grown to attract between 30,000 and 35,000 people, who appreciate the mix of barbecue vendors, a varied lineup of blues bands and brews.

The four-day event features six national award-winning cooking teams and local barbecue entrepreneurs.

New to the lineup are Timmy's BBQ from Garrett and McHyser BBQ out of Columbia City, Mark Chappuis said. 

Last year, Chappius said he planned Ribfest for when he thought the number of coronavirus cases would decrease, but the case numbers increased instead and people stayed away. This year, people were out enjoying themselves, he added.

“People have COVID fatigue,” he said, adding that being outdoors and practicing social distancing minimize the risk.

John Stephenson of Fort Wayne sat on the side, his feet tapping to the music. “The music is really good,” he said, adding he comes for “the rhythm.”

“It's the only time when everyone should come down, and it's not that expensive.” 

Stephenson likes Ziffles Rib Bar at Georgetown Square for barbecue, but Saturday he patronized Desperado's. 

“I look for the longest line and you know that's good,” Stephenson said. 

Sitting next to him, Catherine Crupi said she came to enjoy the event and watch her husband, Jeff McRae, play in a local band put together for the event. Crupi said McRae has played with the group of musicians before, and Saturday, they seemed to have no problem pleasing the crowd. 

The event runs until 9:30 p.m. today. Fathers receive free admission, as do children younger than 10. Admission for anyone 10 and older is $3.

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