Ribfest moves to Dupage County Fairgrounds after 32 years in Naperville


Jay Deegan

Ribfest will move to Dupage County Fairgrounds after 32 years in Naperville.

Jay Deegan, Staff Writer

The Naperville Exchange Club is moving Ribfest to the DuPage Event Center & Fairgrounds in Wheaton after 32 years in Naperville.

Ribfest is an annual festival financially benefiting organizations that combat child abuse. Along with barbeque ribs, the festival offers music, a carnival and more for attendees. The festival has been an annual event in Naperville since 1988. It was canceled in 2020 and 2021 at its planned Romeoville location due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1988, Ribfest was originally held at Rotary Hill on the Naperville Riverwalk. It drew an estimated 50,000 people. In 1989, it was moved to Knoch Park where it would stay until 2019. The park district notified the Exchange Club that 2019 would be the last year at Knoch Park due to planned construction.

The 2020 and 2021 Ribfest were going to be held in Romeoville at Deer Crossing Park, but was inevitably canceled.

“This year, Ribfest organizers took a look around again and  found a new site at the County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. It seemed to have everything we were looking for, so we decided to move forward with it being our location,”  McDonough said.

The DuPage Event Center & Fairgrounds is a place built for festivals, having pre-established facilities such as restroom facilities and general buildings unlike Ribfest’s previous location. This year will be the first time that they will host Ribfest.

“I think that this new facility is going to be much larger, it has more parking, and it will be easier for patrons to come in and visit. It could be very beneficial for everyone,” said Mark Link, owner of Uncle Bub’s BBQ & Catering in Westmont.

Throughout its tenure at Knoch Park, Ribfest was held over the July 4 holiday weekend. This year, it will be held from June 17-20.

“The site was not available on the normal July Fourth weekend, which means that we had to plan otherwise,”  McDonough said. “The original Ribfest was held on Fathers Day weekend, so we look at it like we are going back to the Father’s day tradition.”

Ribfest has traditionally had tough competition in the ribs and sauce categories, with over 10 rib vendors in 2019. 

“Ribfest is great publicity,” Link said. “Uncle Bub’s has won the past three years, which is great. Ribfest being gone for two years hasn’t affected our business that much, but it was still a noticeable absence.” 

While Ribfest was at Knoch Park, the parking availability was limited, so much so that nearby residents would sell spaces on their lawns for parking. To compensate for this issue, the Exchange Club had previously used shuttles to transport people from central locations to Ribfest.

“There’s going to be shuttles from parking facilities, along with potentially more shuttle routes,” said McDonough.  “We are going to make sure that we have the same ease of facilities as we always have at Ribfest.”

Ribfest has traditionally had over 150,000 attendees each year and overall raised $17.5 million throughout its history.

“We still have the main sponsors we have had for a long time,” McDonough said. “ABC7, Budweiser, Citgo, Coca-Cola, Jewel Osco are all making the move with us. So far everyone seems very excited about the move.”

Many people are happy to see Ribfest back, benefiting those who need it most.

“The reason why I do it, it’s for the kids,” Link said. “The exchange club is a great organization, and all the money they’ve raised, I think it’s awesome.”