The summer barbecue season brings the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Highland Rotary Club. The thirteenth annual Hudson Valley RibFest will be held at the Ulster County Fairgrounds Friday through Sunday, August 18 through 20. The event goes on rain or shine and parking is free. Single-day general admission costs $7 for adults and is free for kids under age 12. Tickets are available at the gate or in advance online. The price of admission includes entry to the festival, live music, most of the additional entertainment, access to the contest area and same-day re-entry.
The Highland Rotary Club enlists more than 300 volunteers every year to put on the three-day event. The proceeds enable the service club to support their many projects locally and promote humanitarian causes worldwide.
Here’s a few things to know to make the most of a visit to RibFest:
General admission times are Friday evening, August 18 from 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday, August 19 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, August 20 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The “Best of the Fest” VIP experience is available Friday night only. Tickets cost $75 with advance purchase online, but readers should be advised that as of press time, the 100 tickets reserved for that all-you-can-eat experience under the tent were nearly sold out. (Check availability at www.hudsonvalleyribfest.org.)
The main stage on the festival grounds will feature live music. Friday evening performers will be Kayla Rae at 6:30 p.m. and the Black Dirt Bandits at 8 p.m. Saturday’s live music will be a mix of blues, country and classic rock with the Roadhouse Roosters at 11:30 a.m., Nikki Briar at 2 p.m., BedRock at 4:30 p.m. and Americana Oak Bank at 7:30 p.m. Sunday it’s all about country music, with Liv Waters at 11:30 a.m. and Country Fresh at 2:30 p.m.
The main stage will also host illusionist and mentalist “Jace,” who will do a show each day.
Activities for kids include the craft-making tent and inflatable bouncy houses. The entire family can take a ride on the “RibFest Express” train that tours the fairgrounds.
The food festival part of the event will offer six barbecue rib vendors: Big Kev’s BBQ, Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ, Handsome Devil, LLC, Jack McDavid’s Down Home Diner, SmokeShack BBQ and Pigtails BBQ Company. Each will have half and full racks of ribs available for purchase along with other barbecued meats and side dishes. They often sell bottles of their sauces and BBQ rubs, too. Visitors can try a few variations and cast a vote for the “people’s choice.”
Additional vendors will offer classic fair food: roasted corn, fried dough, fried pickles, lemonade, Italian ices, soft pretzels, kettle corn, hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, jerk chicken and shrimp. Gardiner’s Tantillo’s Farm will sell their apple cider doughnuts and pies, and Hudson Valley-based 4-H kids their “famous milkshakes.”
Other vendors will offer items that range from clothing to cutlery.
The Highland Rotary Club staffs the beer tent in the center of the festival. A selection of beer and bottled cocktails are sold. ID’s are checked once and wristbands issued for easy purchase on the second round.
A bull-riding apparatus will be located near the beer tent.
The chef demo tent will host continuous cooking demonstrations and tastings from opening time until 7 p.m. on Saturday and all day Sunday. Presentations last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Attendees learn how to cook specific recipes and sample locally produced spirits, wine and beer.
New to RibFest this year will be a number of cornhole tournaments. For a nominal fee, players can sign up and compete for prizes. The games will run about every hour and a half on Saturday. The finale on Sunday will have the largest prizes and a correspondingly larger entry fee. If the tournaments prove to be as popular as the casual cornhole games were at previous RibFests, the games will be expanded into a larger regional contest next year.
The barbecue competition
RibFest includes a barbecue competition. Sixty teams of competitors set up their grills in a “village” of sorts at the back of the fairgrounds, behind where the main action for visitors takes place. RibFest is affiliated with the Empire State BBQ Championship Challenge, a statewide series of competitive events intended to promote the love of barbecue. Winners earn cash prizes and bragging rights.
On Saturday afternoon, The New England Barbecue Society will sponsor a grilling contest. Prizes will be won in four categories, including a grilled apple dessert. Sunday’s competition, sponsored by the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS), will be all about the barbecued meats. Winning contestants will move on to the next level and compete in the Kansas City Nationals.
The judges for the contest have all completed a KCBS-sanctioned rib-judging training program. Spots to act as judges at Hudson Valley RibFest are snapped up quickly each February when the word is put out to apply, according to Highland Rotary Club member Steve Laubach.
The ribs cooked up by the competitive teams are strictly for judging, not for sale to the public. But some of the contest teams do act as “tailgate vendors,” selling sauces and t-shirts or other BBQ-related products.
Competitors are also happy to chat with visitors who wander back to the contest area, says Laubach. “They’ll spend some time and talk to you about what they do. Maybe they won’t tell you everything, because they don’t want to give their best secrets away, but they’re always willing to talk to people and answer questions about barbecue.”
The best time to visit the competition area is probably right before the teams turn in their entries, he says, when contestants are prepping the presentation of their food. That starts at noon on Saturday and Sunday and continues throughout the afternoon.
Hannaford supermarket is a major sponsor of RibFest. “They’ll be there again with their tent giving stuff away,” says Laubach. “And they help us in a lot of other ways. They supply a refrigerated truck for us and all the bottled water for our volunteers.”
Additional major sponsors include Young’s Motors, Mid-Hudson Fidelis Care and Ulster Savings Bank. RibFest now partners with iHeartMedia, too, who will be at the event with DJs all weekend.
Funds raised through Hudson Valley RibFest over the past 12 years have allowed the Highland Rotary Club to provide more than $200,000 in services both locally and internationally. Their local contributions include helping out food pantries and providing rent and heat assistance along with school supplies and warm coats for families in need. RibFest made it possible to supply 20 automatic external defibrillators to the Highland community and paid for paving at the Rail Trail parking lot. The festival also allows the club to award $5,000 in scholarships to local students each year.