For three days at the start of each fall, Bullen Park transforms itself into the biggest barbecue and live music venue you’ll find across the region with the Esquimalt Ribfest.
“You can follow your nose to it,” says founder and organizer Tom Woods. “It’s the best-attended event in Esquimalt.”
The family-friendly annual tradition is a Township staple, founded on the dream to give back to the community. All proceeds benefit the Esquimalt Firefighters Charitable Fund and the ongoing efforts to build Esquimalt High School an all-weather playing field.
Six years on, over $500,000 has been raised.
Entirely volunteer-driven, the free event (feel free to donate at the entrance gate) is an homage to the country’s best ribbers and local musicians with a splash of some of the region’s best craft beer, cider and wine.
This year the team behind Ribfest faced another loss with the untimely passing of Esquimalt blues guitarist Jason Buie, the festival’s music director. Woods’ co-founder Cindy Briggs was honoured last year after she also passed away unexpectedly in 2016.
“Jason did this for us,” Woods says. “The reason we have such incredible music is solely because of him.”
Six years ago Woods pitched Buie with the idea of having a “big family house party” where the community could eat and drink and not have to pay to get through the door.
As it turns out, the party was so good, rib-goers now donate at the gate entrance and thousands of dollars have gone back to the community as a result.
|Jason Buie is the reason Esquimalt Ribfest has the musical lineup it does, says founder Tom Woods. Buie served as the festival’s music director until his untimely death in March. Photo contributed|
Two close friends of Buie stepped in this year to help ensure the show would go on. In honour of the award-winning musician, an eight-foot neon guitar will be erected at what is now called the Jason Buie Stage, where a tribute is planned.
“It’s gonna be a great dance party is what it’s going to be,” Woods says.
Rib teams from as far away as Ontario and Saskatchewan will compete for the coveted People’s Choice Award and be judged by Mayor Barb Desjardins and other local personalities, for the best ribs and best sauce.
And, herbivores fear not – veggie options will also be available.
“I know a lot of people are leaning that way to vegetarian or vegan food, so we don’t want to just be carnivores,” Woods says. “If we can incorporate different options so everyone can feel welcome there, that’s a big thing for us.”
An estimated 50,000 people will eat, drink and dance in Bullen Park over the course of the weekend.
And, Woods has some advice about how to best navigate the festival: “Bring a group of six, grab a rack at each ribber and do your own little taste test.”
Expect to find Dryspell, Hypeman and the Worms, Jolly Mon Band, Blue Sky, Eagle Eyes, Cities, Paul Black, Soul Shakers, Rock Steady, Bill Johnson and more onstage throughout the weekend.