By Jordan Cohen
Despite stifling heat and humidity Friday and rain Saturday, which may have held down attendance, the coordinator of the annual Eastwood Rib Festival near Eastwood Field says the event already is a success.
MADELYN P. HASTINGS I THE VINDICATOR The Eastwood Rib Fest in Niles features ribs, food, music, and a marketplace with a variety of vendors on Saturday, July 20. The event runs through Sunday.
“It’s successful because it’s a community event, and I want to do it bigger and better every year,” said Kelly Simon, owner of Simon Events Management. “I’m committed to a minimum of three years doing this — and I emphasize the word ‘minimum.’ ”
The rib fest, a mainstay for many years near the Eastwood Mall, did not take place last year, but returned this summer after Simon’s company was contacted by the Cafaro Co., the mall owner. Simon described her first year with the event as “an investment” that she believes will be productive.
“We have 10 corporate sponsors, beer, beverage and media sponsors,” Simon said, “but the most important thing is that we want our vendors and exhibitors to do well.”
Eight rib vendors from Ohio, the Southeast and Midwest are competing for prizes, as well as for sales of their ribs and special sauces. Several echoed Simon’s optimism.
“We think this will be pretty great for us,” said Todd Lewis of Smokin’ T’s Barbecue in Macedonia. “It’s going to pick up, and in this business you always have hope.”
Tom Littell of Guy’s Award Winning Barbecue, Newton Falls, said he was glad the rib fest is back. “It’s always good to come back and it’s like being home, but we don’t need any more rain around here.” Littell also said he expected good business for the remainder of the weekend.
Simon said her events are always tied in with charities, and for the Eastwood Rib Fest, the charity is the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.
The event offers a free ticket to anyone bringing in a nonperishable food item for Second Harvest when one ticket is purchased at the regular admission price of $5.
“People are responding, and they’re bringing lots of food,” said Sally Thuransky of Simon Events Management.
As the attendance grew by late Saturday afternoon, the response to the returned rib fest was generally positive.
“It seems to be more spread out and you have more air,” said Lenny Fredericka, Niles, while Dan and Robin Reese of Lordstown said they liked the location and the convenience of nearby parking.
Andrea Gotshell of Howland said she liked the ribs, but would like the hours lengthened.
“I’d like to see them stay open longer at night because I’m a stay-at-home mom and sometimes you can’t get here till late,” Gotshell said.
The Rib Fest also features some famous classic rock groups such as the Georgia Satellites, Starship, and Fran Cosmo, the former lead singer of Boston, who performs tonight. Other rock groups played during the day and one of them, Angel Blue and the Prophets Band, got some additional help in attracting a crowd as Carrie Wivell, 37, of Kent, gyrated with a hula hoop during their set.
The concerts are included in the admission fee.
The Rib Fest opens at 11 a.m. today and concludes tonight with the concert and the announcement of the awards for best ribs and sauces.