No Ribfest planned for this year: Exchange Club of Naperville president

Joe Lewnard/
Seven vendors are lined up during the opening day of Ribfest at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton Friday.

Ribfest, the granddaddy of Fourth of July celebrations during its heyday in Naperville, faces a hazy future after a two-year stint in Wheaton coming out of the pandemic.

“We never planned one this year, so we didn’t really cancel it because we never scheduled it,” said Emy Trotz, president of the Exchange Club of Naperville, the civic group in charge of Ribfest. “We had other things going on that we didn’t have the capability to put it together.”

For decades, Ribfest reigned over the suburban summer festival season with trophy-winning barbecue, star-studded concerts from Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and Hootie & the Blowfish, thousands of volunteers and the grand finale – a Fourth of July fireworks show over Naperville’s Knoch Park.

After a pandemic hiatus, organizers mounted a comeback in 2022, cooking up a scaled-back version of Ribfest at a new venue – the DuPage County fairgrounds – during Father’s Day weekend.

Last year, Ribfest changed dates again, closing out the festival season with a three-day day barbecue party in September at the county fairgrounds.

The Exchange Club has not yet made a formal announcement about the future of Ribfest.

“I’d like to wait until I get to the board to see what they want to say, but I know we would want to thank the Naperville community for all the years we were here and thank the Wheaton community for all the times we were there. But right now I hesitate to make any statements without my board approval,” Trotz said.

She plans to meet with the board members “soon, very soon.”

“No, those factors didn’t come into it,” Trotz said when asked about the volunteers needed to stage the event.

Ribfest traditionally saluted the Fourth of July in Naperville’s Knoch Park with five days of rib grilling, carnival rides and music. The Exchange Club raised millions of dollars through Ribfest for charities supporting survivors of child abuse and domestic violence. Park renovations forced organizers to look for another venue after more than three decades in Naperville.