Elkhorn Ribfest, a three-day event held July 14-16 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds, featured rib-smokers from throughout the country, a carnival and live music. James Lee (above) smokes ribs; Emmett LeDuc (below) shows how messy eating ribs can get. (Aaron Gottschalk photos)

Elkhorn Ribfest finds continued success at second-annual event

By Kellen Olshefski


Elkhorn Ribfest proved to be a finger-licking success when it returned to the Walworth County Fairgrounds July 14-16 for its second annual event, drawing a wide selection of barbecue vendors and a large crowd.

Despite heavy rainfall earlier in the week that resulted in widespread flash-flooding throughout the tri-county area, total attendance crested more than 50,000, according to a press release from the Walworth County Fairgrounds.

The event drew barbecue vendors from across the nation, including two Wisconsin vendors: Uncle Ed’s BBQ and LD’s BBQ, a local favorite based out of East Troy.

Awards for the second annual event were announced on July 16, with Matt Warden’s Roundman’s BBQ taking first place in the Community Amateur Division, and Steve Riddle’s 2 Sauced Two Smoke and Paul VanLanen’s Jurassic Pork BBQ taking second and third, respectively.

In the Pro Division, Leon Davis’s LD’s BBQ of East Troy again took top honors, winning the People’s Choice Award for the second year in a row. Donna Rice’s “Lick My Ribs” Desperado’s BBQ and Rib Co. ultimately stole the show, however, taking both the Critic’s Choice Champion and Grand Champion awards.

Local community members involved with the event were pleased with the outcome.

Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Clapper said it was incredible, noting the more than 50,000 attendees were “an awesome” crowd.

“This is the type of event that Elkhorn needs,” she said. “I had people say they are going to make it an annual event or vacation for their family, with many of them staying in Elkhorn or even camping on the fairgrounds.”

Alderman Tom Myrin, who serves as the city’s liaison to the Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, echoed Clapper’s sentiments, noting it was a fantastic event that shattered last year’s records.

“I was there supporting the Chamber and the Rotary for the fundraisers, and it was super busy,” he said. “They did a great job coordinating this event.”

Alderman Scott McClory said he heard nothing but good things about the event.

City Attorney and Elkhorn Rotarian Ward Phillips noted the event sold more products on Saturday of this year’s event than it did the entire weekend last year, a testament to how it has grown in just its first two years.

“That was incredible,” he said. “They learned some things from last year and the system of getting people through, the way they were selling things this year, the lines moved more quickly.”

Phillips also noted that while working for the Rotary Club on Saturday, he was impressed with the number of faces he didn’t recognize in the crowd.

“I saw some local faces, but mostly, it was out of town people, people being brought into the city who otherwise wouldn’t be there,” he said.


Traffic concerns

As with anything that grows, space became a slight concern this year, specifically in regards to vehicle traffic around the fairgrounds.

However, that’s something the city intends to review in the future to ensure the event continues to run smoothly in years to come.

With area country band Bella Cain performing at the event Saturday night, the large crowd led to congestion throughout the southern part of the city as vehicles poured into the fairgrounds.

“The traffic was way down to the south of the Speedway… and nobody wanted to go anywhere other than the fairgrounds,” McClory said about the traffic. “If it’s going to continue to keep growing like that, we need to do something about that for next year.”

In addition to traffic for the band, traffic entering and exiting through the main gate of the fairgrounds off of Court Street also led to congestion, with pedestrians and vehicles both trying to enter and leave through the gate.


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