By Lindsay Doty
It’s the applause and chatter of the crowd following that last round of fireworks that reminds Tom Downard exactly why Hendricks County Rib Fest is so special.
“When you see families on blankets smiling and laughing and having a good time, that’s the most satisfying to me,” said Downard, executive director of the Avon Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the large-scale community event. “That’s why we started this event in year one. To give residents something we can all go to and enjoy.”
Last year was a bust because of COVID-19, so organizers are pumped to bring things back.
The Hendricks County Rib Fest will return in 2021 for its 17th year. For the first time, the growing event that includes food, music, hot air balloons, fireworks, inflatables and community fun will be held at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds in Danville.
“It’s a bigger piece of real estate to work with. Our crowds have continued to grow, so it was next level and the next best thing,” said Downard, a 30-plus year resident of Avon who has watched the event grow from Avon Town Hall Park to Kingsway Christian Church to the fairgrounds.
“If it is a nice day, we are between 9,000 and 12,000 people in a short period.”
He says the new location provides amenities and will give the crowd and vendors a chance to spread out.
Rib Fest kicks off with the Rib Run 5k in the morning. The evening event offers multiple food vendors from barbecue (obviously) to ice cream and concludes with a balloon glow and fireworks.This year, organizers have added a beer tent to the roster for guests who are 21 and older.
“What goes better with barbeque than beer?” asked Downard.
This year, there will be no hot air balloon rides due to weather and logistics.
Instead, there will be seven giant hot air balloons illuminated for the evening.
“Families and kids can walk inside and take pictures,” he said.
For organizers, it’s a year-round planning process that pays off at the end of the night.
While Downard admits he doesn’t get to enjoy too much because he’s working, he tries to get an occasional snack in before sunset.
“I may sneak a bite of a brisket sandwich.”
What: Hendrick County Rib Fest
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, June 26.
Rib Run: 8 a.m.
Fireworks start after dusk.
Where: Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds; 1900 E Main St, Danville.
Parking: $5; enter Gate 5 off N. County Road 200 E
Cost: Admission is free
Tips: Don’t forget to bring blankets and chairs.
Food prices vary. Check out hendrickscountyribfest.com to see the menu.