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Fairgrounds replaces Rock’n Ribs with new festival

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Last edited 12:33 p.m., Oct. 16, 2019

A new barbecue festival dubbed Ozarks BBQ Fest is taking over the April time slot of the longtime Rock’n Ribs BBQ Festival, which organizers announced in August would be put on hold for 2020.

The Ozark Empire Fair Foundation and the Ozarks Regional YMCA have partnered to host the event April 24-25 in the North Woods area of the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, said Larry Krauck, the fairgrounds’ events manager. It’s in response to the interest of competitive barbecue teams to keep a festival on the calendar.

“When the official press release came out from Rock’n Ribs, some of the local barbecue teams and supporters of the Rock’n Ribs event were kind of upset,” Krauck said. “They were all bummed because there’s a lot of teams that compete in Rock’n Ribs that are based within a 100-mile radius of the Springfield area, so they considered that event in their backyard.”

Krauck said Ozarks BBQ Fest organizers have received positive responses from barbecue teams and potential judges who are interested in continuing a barbecue festival in Springfield.

The foundation also wants the festival to have a charitable mission, much like Rock’n Ribs, Krauck said.

Springfield’s five Rotary clubs and Rotaract are not involved in the new event. They had organized the 20-year festival to raise money for seven local children’s charities over three days each spring.

Proceeds from the Ozarks BBQ Fest would benefit the Ozark Empire Fair Foundation and the Ozarks Regional YMCA, he said.

“The goal of this is to find enough sponsors and enough teams that we can give back, but until we get them under our belts, we aren’t sure where we’ll be at financially,” Krauck said.

There are no sponsors or vendors lined up for the event, he said. The team plans to have bands, sponsors and vendors solidified by the end of the year.

The event will begin the evening of April 24 for those who are at least 21 years old, Krauck said. The evening activities will include craft beer and wine tents, live music in an open air pavilion and a Steak Cookoff Association-sanctioned contest. Activities on April 25 will be open to all ages and plans include a barbecue competition – sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society – as well as a kids event, bounce houses, crafts, barbecue sampling and live music.

Anthony Roberts, the newly appointed president of the Rock’n Ribs board, said in past Springfield Business Journal reporting that the board decided to put the festival on hold to re-envision its future, citing a recent drop in attendance and sponsorships as the main concerns.

Roberts today said the Rock’n Ribs board has had one meeting to discuss what the future of the fundraising event will look like, but nothing has been identified.

“Everything's on the table for us,” he said. “Barbecue can certainly be part of the event, or we could go in an entirely different direction.”

In 2019, the Rock’n Ribs BBQ Festival raised $70,000 to share between seven nonprofits, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks, Harmony House and Great Circle, according to past SBJ reporting. In 2018, the festival raised $80,500 in charitable donations, which followed the festival’s worst year of $35,000 raised in 2017.

Casey Owen, operations manager for Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, said they’ve considered creating their own event for several years.

“The last few years, as Rock’n Ribs has slowly became less and less, we’ve started to plan on our end to take over the event at some point in time,” Owen said.

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