By Adrian Gerth
Every year thousands of us wade through enormous crowds in the sweltering heat for concerts, festivals, and holidays that hopefully turn out to be as fun as they were billed to be. If there’s going to be one festival you should happily sweat it out for this year, it’s this years Port City Rib Fest. Running Friday, August 14th through Sunday the 16th, this is not your grandfather’s barbecue contest. Allen McDavid of AKA Entertainment & Media has made this festival an awesome portmaneau of music festival meets rib cook-off, and there’s no holding back from either side.
“The guys who come out are kind of at the top of the food chain and they have a huge investment in their equipment,” he says. “They are serious about feeding such a large crowd; there is a competition but it’s secondary to feeding the attendees.” This is actually the only rib fest in the state where the judges opinion is less important than that of the everyday rib enthusiast. It probably helps that the competition isn’t a cash prize; more of bragging rights and a nice addition their resume. The awards are given on Saturday so the winners can show off their trophy and skills for the rest of the weekend. If ribs aren’t you favorite, don’t worry; they’ll have beef, chicken, sausage, and even turkey in every fashion you could imagine.
This will be Allen’s eleventh year running a rib festival, so he’s met a lot of the top-notch pitmasters around the country. “Every year is different,” he says, “but this year we have cooks from Florida, Maine, one from Ohio, two from South Carolina, and Poor Piggies from Wilmington.” Poor Piggies has been in McDavid’s festivals for a couple of years, including winning Best Ribs at a festival in Ohio last year. Each team is a master of their craft though; they have to accommodate hundreds of people per day, so the challenge is keeping up the quality and quantity.
Allen also wants to keep the festival itself constantly evolving. “I have to keep the rib fest aspect foremost, but at the same time I’ve been trying to add components to it that aren’t not normally found at rib fest,” he says. He has been breaking the mold of what a BBQ festival is, and it shows. The Wilmington rib fest has taken on an underlying bohemian vibe in recent years, complete with a hookah lounge next to the river and a giant teepee last year.
Before Allen got into the barbecue business, his game was advertising, which gave him all the framework for running music festivals. “One of the main reasons I like doing these things is the musical component,” he says. “I try to find acts that are on the cusp of breaking big.” He did just that in 2007 by having the Avett Brothers play at a rib fest in Winston Salem the night before playing at Bonnaroo. This year Bombadil will probably be the biggest name on the main stage, but locals are out in full force as well, with the Justin Cody Fox Trio, Rachel Martin, Brandon Bailey, Snake Malone and the Black Cat Bone, and The Midatlantic all making appearances.
As far as the crowd, this years festival has already implemented lessons learned from the past. The first year they planned for 10,000 people but got double that; last year the supermoon brought on torrential flooding. They hope to help both of these problems by moving the festival from Battleship Park across the river to North Waterfront Park on Nutt Street. “We’re anticipating a good crowd and we’ll create a lot of shade for the crowds,” says Allen. The festival will start at 11 a.m. on Friday, and is only $1 admission until 3 p.m., so that everyone who works and lives downtown has a chance to come in for cheap. The festivities run 11-11 on Friday and Saturday, then 12 to 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets will be $7 for adults and $1 for kids the second and third day, but some coupons will be available for those days. All of the information can be found on their website, www.portcityribfest.com
Even though Allen has been running festivals all over the state, he’s come to live it here. “Wilmington has become our favorite festival location,” he says. “We love the people who come out there; it’s hard to believe there can be such a difference in the crowd there’s always more of an upbeat vibe to the crowd.” If you love barbecue, music, and a good time, then the Port City Rib Fest is where you need to be.