Sunday, July 01, 2012

No Bones About It, Naperville Ribfest Admission Policy Seems a Full Slab of Silly

I am certainly well aware of the ravages that the economy has wreaked, not only upon individuals, families, businesses and non-profits, but also municipalities and cities of all sizes.

So while it is unfortunate that at a time when many people have less money to spend on leisure pursuits, many local festivals and other community events are no longer able to provide free or dirt cheap means of amusement, I understand that the realities dictate adjustments had to be made in order for some of these fun, communal activities to remain viable. 

As I write this on the weekend preceding the 4th of July, I realize that for the first time in over 30 years, the Taste of Chicago is not taking place at precisely this time of year. It has been shortened (to just 5 days), downsized in the number of participating restaurants and shifted to July 11-15. While entry to the festival grounds remains free, as does the chance to hear lesser-known musical acts, and food tickets will still cost $8 for a strip of 12, for the first time a $25 admission fee is being charged to sit in the pavilion of the Petrillo Music Shell--though not on the lawn--for artists such as Jennifer Hudson, Death Cab for Cutie, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Chaka Khan and Dierks Bentley.

Although I intend to make it down to the Taste, I am not planning to pay to attend any of the concerts. But while I'm not sure that I agree with the implementation of an admission charge, I can certainly understand why it was considered and instituted. The entertainers above certainly could command $25 or more per ticket at other Chicago venues, and I've noticed in years past that Taste acts understandably often also perform at Milwaukee Summerfest, which charges a grounds entry fee of $9-$16, with headliners at the fest's Marcus Amphitheatre commanding ticket prices akin to those charged at the Charter One Pavilion or the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre.

In addition to the huge festivals--such as Taste of Chicago and Summerfest--that take place around this time of year, there is a plethora of summertime fests staged in several Chicago suburbs and conceivably all across the U.S. The Taste of Lombard, Taste of Westmont, Eyes to the Skies in Lisle, Frontier Days in Arlington Heights and Skokie's Backlot Bash are just a few of the fests I've attended in years past; most have offered free admission, though I realize this might no longer be the case.

Having just checked the website of Arlington Heights' Frontier Days, one of the bigger area festivals, I note that there is no admission charge for grounds entry or the music, which this year includes Burton Cummings (of the Guess Who), Foghat, Charlie Daniels Band and American English,

One of the biggest and best local festivals I've attended and enjoyed is Naperville's Ribfest, presented by the Naperville Exchange Club. From 1995 to 2007, I lived in west suburban Glen Ellyn, only about 15 minutes from the Ribfest grounds, and I went to the fest more than a few different years. Although the local festivals--including Ribfest--primarily showcase classic rock artists who are a bit long in the tooth, Naperville has typically presented acts a tad bigger in name and stature.

At some point, Ribfest might have had completely free admission, but in 2002, when I saw Foreigner, and 2004, for Lynyrd Skynyrd, entry to the grounds was $5 with no addition charge for the mainstage acts.

Which brings us to this past Friday

I haven't attended Ribfest in recent years, because I now, again, live in north suburban Skokie, about 40 miles away. But I had cause to be in Naperville on Friday afternoon, so I thought that for old-times sake--and a lifelong love of baby back ribs--I would stop by for some food. Although I enjoy the headline musical act, the Steve Miller Band, I had seen them last year at the Chicago Theatre (pertinent as it will be, for just $18).

When I stopped by the Ribfest grounds at Knoch Park--fortunately I found some free nearby street parking--it was about 5:20pm, and I had no intention of sticking around in 95 degree heat longer than it took to get a half-slab of ribs, an ear of corn and perhaps some ice cream. Steve Miller wasn't scheduled to play until 8:00pm and my intent was to "fly like an eagle" back to Skokie by 6:30 at the latest.

Now, I knew from the Ribfest website that entry to see Steve Miller was $25, with Saturday's Joe Walsh show $15 and Sunday's ZZ Top performance $20. What I didn't realize, especially because we've come a long way from $5 covering everything, was that if all you wanted to do was go in and get some ribs, you still had to pay $25.

So I didn't.

I assume there was nonetheless a large crowd and I hope that the presumed throng of rhythmically-challenged white people dancing unabashedly-but-badly to "Rock'n Me" had a wonderful time. (It looks like they did.)

Undoubtedly, the organizers of Ribfest will monitor its attendance and receipts to determine how to price the festival in the future. While it's obviously their prerogative to do so any way they please, my suggestion would be to have separate admission for grounds entry--say $5--given the higher rates they seemingly now have to charge for the headline entertainment.

Even if this means that they would have to reconfigure the festival grounds to preclude $5 folks from seeing or optimally hearing the $25 bands, it would seem to make sense.

Ribfest isn't like Ravinia, where you pay an admission fee--often to sit on the lawn without ability to see the stage--and potentially purchase food from one of their concession stands (although most Ravinia patrons seem to bring their own food).

As its name would seemingly imply, Ribfest is largely about ribs. Vendors from all across the U.S. pay an entry fee, shlep their equipment to Naperville and have workers standing over grills in 95 degree heat in order TO SELL RIBS.

So why would the festival purposely preclude people from coming in--freely or with a $5 fee if necessary to cover administrative & related costs--and buying ribs? Especially at 5:30pm when the band commanding $25 isn't playing until 8:00pm?

As Steve Miller suggests, go on, take the money and run.

I checked with a friend who had recently attended Chicago's Ribfest, and he confirmed that there, grounds entry was $5, with no extra charge for the musical acts that performed.

Last weekend, I went to the Green Music Festival in Chicago, specifically to see Dinosaur Jr., a band I would typically pay about $35 to see. All I--or anybody--was charged, other than food food & drink we might purchase, was $5.

And as I shared above, although Taste of Chicago is now charging for pavilion seats to see name-brand entertainment, they are not charging an entry fee just to access the food booths in Grant Park.

Now, having not gone to Ribfest for several years, I don't know when admission prices markedly increased, and I am not blaming anyone for enforcing the $25 entry policy, just that it surprised and stupefied me.

Remembering from years past, it seems that the rib booths are all congregated in one area, distinct from the stage area. So if Steve Miller, per se, demands charging $25, why not fence off the stage area and allow entry only to those who have paid to see him? If some other folks who just want to enjoy a slab of ribs happen to hear some music, so be it.

Anyway, enough about this. But when I was told at the entry gate that admission was $25 even if I had no intention of sticking around long enough to hear music, I was also told that I could come the next night--for Joe Walsh--for just $15. To that, I just laughed. Although I love Joe Walsh and had toyed going to see him, Naperville isn't exactly next door and after the silliness I encountered on Friday, I certainly don't intend to return to Ribfest anytime soon, unless the admission policy changes. So I'll also be skipping ZZ Top tonight.

Which is a shame for the rib vendors. I was prepared to spend up to $20 with them, if only I was allowed to. I think the organizers owe someone that money.


Unknown said...

I TOTALLY agree... Me and my son was thinking about coming today (Sunday) But after entry and Gas ,,,,That would be $50 before we ate... The ribs im sure are good,,,But NOT worth the $75-100 I would wind up spending..Not to mention parking.. Rethink it Naperville !!

Unknown said...

I TOTALLY agree,,, Me and my son was thinking about going on Sunday..But all we wanted was to get ribs..Im sure the Ribs are good,But after Gas ,parking and entry..approx $75-100 Total ..I think I was pass...Think about it Naperville !

Anonymous said...

This was my last ribfest. I took the bus from a remote lot with the free shuttle, but the bus driver wasn't sure where to tell us to pick up the bus later, as the signs were not out. Now I have taken this same shuttle over the years, but have never seen such confusion where to make the return trip. No one, including the volunteers, the brochure, a police officer, security, or two other bus drivers knew exactly where I should pick up the bus for my return trip. My folks would never had made it with all of that walking, looking for the stop. After entering and getting my two children over to the unlimited rides from 12 to 3pm, the power went out after they strapped in on their first ride. An hour went by before they were actually on another ride, but the time was not extended for the time lost. The ribs were outrageously priced this year. The lines were shorter because the booth I entertained had 15 people taking orders (15 lines at one booth). It took about an hour to get my ribs. No shade, country music all afternoon, and overpricing will keep me away.
On a separate note, my sister, her husband, and my parents volunteered at a beer tent on Sunday.
They were bossed around, ran out of some beers and were screamed at over the crowd for the 4 1/2 hours they were there. When my 75 year old dad sat down for a minute, the bossy guy told him to get up. They were not offered any rib tickets, or drink tickets for their time, different from past ribfest volunteerism. Their tent boss had them clean up, which they never did before, (and didn't mind helping, but again the boss guy was dictating).
They sold over 30 kegs of beer in four hours and not even a thank you for their time. Sorry Naperville. I'll spend my time and less money somewhere, anywhere else.