Monday, November 20, 2017
Events

Few saw Ribfest as recipe for success

RECOMMENDED READING


ST. PETERSBURG

This weekend will be the 25th Ribfest, bringing more than 60,000 people to Vinoy Park for three days of radio-friendly music and napkin-friendly food.

It's hard to believe it now, but few people thought it could be done when Tom Whiteman first came to the Exchange Club of Northeast St. Petersburg with the idea of charging money for three days of music and food in the park. Other than the Grand Prix races, no one had ever tried to fence off Straub Park and charge people to get in.

"They laughed at me," Whiteman says now of his first attempts to get local radio stations to take part.

The Exchange Club needed a fundraising idea to replace the Southland Powerboat Regatta, which was canceled because of the condition of Lake Maggiore. Whiteman came up the idea for Ribfest when he attended a similar event in Naperville, Ill., over July 4 weekend.

Though this is the 25th Ribfest, it hasn't been 25 years. It was started in March of 1990 as part of the Festival of States and had two events in a couple of years when it moved the festival to November. Tickets were $3 per day or $6 for a three-day pass and the big headliners were the Turtles and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.

Then as now, the event featured award-winning ribs by some of the best barbecue teams from across the country.

People were so sure the idea would fail, Whiteman said, Exchange Club membership plunged from 85 to 42. There was sniping about charging people to use public land. It was only with the help of more influential club members that Ribfest gained grudging approval.

Whiteman told a newspaper reporter at the time he hoped they could draw 20,000 to 30,000 people. And if not? "I'll just leave town."

But once the smoke started rising from the grills, people started converging on the park. The cooks ran out of ribs three times as almost 60,000 people poured into Straub Park in a three-day period, raising $200,000 for children's charities.

"When the band took stage on Saturday night I remember looking over the crowd thinking, 'I did it,' " Whiteman said. "I have to admit I got a little choked up."

Nowadays, Ribfest is at the more spacious Vinoy Park, charges $16 to $20 and still relies on easy-listening rock and country acts that appeal to a crowd with disposable income (This year it's REO Speedwagon, Sister Hazel, Steppenwolf and country's Justin Moore). It has given more than $3.3 million to local children's charities since 1990, said Kathy Plummer, president of the Exchange Clubs of Florida.

When country music was added to the lineup in 2009, the fire department stopped ticket sales during the event because the crowd had grown too large. Earlier that year, the club had signed a little-known country act, the Zac Brown Band, which then went on to record the No. 1 song on the country charts that summer, and it helped Ribfest draw a record-setting crowd of more than 30,000 in one day.

Whiteman, who had booked the band in February, has a thank-you note from Zac Brown that reads, "Thank you for having faith in me when no one else did."

Whiteman knows the feeling.

Comments
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 21

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 21

Ice Skating at Tampa’s Winter Village: Even in Florida, you can get in the holiday spirit by ice skating on an outdoor rink in the park. Each 90-minute session includes skate rental. Stop by the cafe for themed drinks and holiday snacks. 10 a.m., Cur...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 23

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 23

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens: More than 2 million twinkling lights transform the park into a holiday wonderland with Rudolph, Sam the Snowman, Christmas-themed entertainment and visits with Santa. Included with admission on select nights through D...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 22

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 22

Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy gets an update by placing lovers Beatrice and Benedick against the backdrop of the Florida Keys as World War II is drawing to a close. Through Dec. 10. 7 p.m., American Stage Theatre Compa...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Nov. 20-26

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Nov. 20-26

Thanksgiving Day races: Get those calories burning early on Thursday, so you won’t feel as guilty about that second piece of pie. The Times Turkey Trot kicks off at Clearwater High School and features a buffet of races, including the 1-mile Gobbler, ...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/19/17
Holiday-themed events dot the East Hillsborough landscape

Holiday-themed events dot the East Hillsborough landscape

East Hillsborough residents will have three holiday-themed events to help brighten the season this year.Christmas Lane, the long-time holiday celebration that started on an area farm, launches another season of festivities at its current spot, the Fl...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/19/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 18

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 18

CraftArt Festival: More than 120 fine craft artists from around the country will be on hand for this annual street festival with a children’s activity tent and an artists’ demonstration tent. From ceramic artists throwing on the wheel to glass blowin...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17
Christmas in downtown Tampa as Winter Village ice rink opens

Christmas in downtown Tampa as Winter Village ice rink opens

TAMPAWhile her teenage daughter and 6-year-old son glided effortlessly across the outdoor ice rink at Curtis Hixon Park on Friday, Danielle Engram, 35, stood nervously on her rented blades.This would be the lifelong Tampa resident’s first time on the...
Published: 11/17/17
With Harry Potter’s Christmas, Universal Orlando proves holidays are big business

With Harry Potter’s Christmas, Universal Orlando proves holidays are big business

ORLANDO — Christmas has finally come to Hogwarts at Universal Orlando in a new holiday attraction opening Saturday. In addition, Universal Studios has completely upsized its holiday parade with more Macy’s balloons, stunning floats and snowy effects ...
Published: 11/17/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 19

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 19

Randy Newman: The legendary Oscar-, Grammy- and Emmy-winning singer-songwriter is known for hits like Feels Like Home, You’ve Got a Friend in Me and Sail Away. Every ticket purchased includes a physical or digital copy of his forthcoming album Dark ...
Published: 11/17/17
Storytelling company hosts poetry contest

Storytelling company hosts poetry contest

TAMPA HEIGHTS — Hive Over Matter will award its inaugural Herstory Poetry Award & Scholarship at the Pinot & Poetry: A Toast to Herstory celebration event from 7-10 p.m. today (Nov 19) at the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, 2005 N Lamar Ave. ...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/19/17