Wood Buffalo Ribfest feeds and entertains thousands despite challenges

An estimated 10,000 visits were made to Snye Point Park during the four-day celebration of meat and music.

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Thousands of carnivores brought their taste for saucy meats, cold drinks and loud music to the largest Wood Buffalo Ribfest yet during the Labour Day long weekend.

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An estimated 10,000 visits were made to Snye Point Park during the four-day celebration of meat and music. Days were filled with thousands of people licking fingers and tearing meat from bones as four different ribbers served thousands of pounds of ribs, chicken, pulled pork and brisket to hungry crowds

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Ribbers also served meals to the Centre of Hope. More than $20,500 was raised for the Northern Lights Health Foundation and Local HERO Foundation in a 50/50 draw. Another 1,352 lbs. of food and $4,175 in cash donations were raised for the Wood Buffalo Food Bank.

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Wood Buffalo Ribfest has been around since 2019 but this was the first year it was run by F7 Entertainment, a Calgary-based music promoter. The group continued its partnership with Andrew Reinhardt of Western Canada Ribfest, who handled food.

Sarath Samarasekera, CEO of F7 Entertainment, and Reinhardt said this year’s event had improved security, fencing, guidelines, staffing, marketing and advertising compared to previous years. Some suppliers from previous years were also owed money. Samarasekera said previous festivals were handled in an “ad hoc” way.

“I think we learned a little bit about what works and what doesn’t on the site and the space,” said Samarasekera. “This is a great community and there’s a lot of support. We’ll be working with the community to see more of what they want.”

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It’s too soon for organizers to comment on what next year will look like, but Reinhardt says the festival’s focus will be on bringing as much of the community as possible to the community. Reinhardt hopes to include a venue serving Halal ribs next year.

“Some of my own memories growing up, we weren’t very rich so we didn’t travel much, But going out to the park and having this family barbecue was a big deal. I hope we can just make good memories.”

There were challenges, though. Samarasekera said the most stressful moment of the weekend was when two children were reported missing. Fortunately they were quickly found and unharmed.

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The Trews cancelled their performance because lightning had been tracked nearby. Organizers did not want to risk a disaster and closed ribfest.

Heavy smoke from wildfires in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories blanketed ribfest for much of the weekend, but it was heaviest on Saturday. There were still performances from country music artists Jade Eagleson, Dan Davidson, Teigen Gayse, Tyler Whelan and Jordan Last. However, many people still stayed home or only made brief visits because of the thick smoke.

The rest of the concerts were flawless. The Trans-Canada Highwaymen—a supergroup including Steven Page formerly of the Barenaked Ladies, Chris Murphy of Sloan, Moe Berg of Pursuit of Happiness and Craig Northey of Odds—had crowds singing along to hits from all four of their bands.

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A revamped Trooper closed the weekend as singer David Steele, who replaced founding vocalist Ra McGuire when he retired in 2021 with founding guitarist Brian Smith. Steele, with his nearly identical impression of McGuire at his prime, bantered with the crowd and kept people dancing and singing. New guitarist Steve Crane matched Smith’s energy on familiar hits that have dominated Canadian hard rock radio since 1975.

“I’ve seen a ton of positive feedback,” said Reinhardt. “I’m really excited for what the future holds for Fort McMurray.”

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ribfest
Ribbers at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 4, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
ribfest
Ribbers promote their barbecue sauce at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Ribbers promote their barbecue sauce at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Ribbers promote their barbecue sauce at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Ribbers at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Ribbers at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Ribbers at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Ribbers at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People eat at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People eat at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People eat at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People eat at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Trophies and a fake machine gun outside Natural Born Grillers at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Trophies and a fake machine gun outside Natural Born Grillers at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Steven Page, formerly of the Barenaked Ladies, performs with the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Steven Page, formerly of the Barenaked Ladies, performs with the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People cheer for the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People cheer for the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Chris Murphy of Sloan performs with the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Chris Murphy of Sloan performs with the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Craig Northey of Odds performs with the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Craig Northey of Odds performs with the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Moe Berg of The Pursuit of Happiness performs with the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Moe Berg of The Pursuit of Happiness performs with the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 1, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A man with his children watch the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen perform at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A man with his children watch the supergroup Trans-Canada Highwaymen perform at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
David Steele of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
David Steele of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Steve Crane of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Steve Crane of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Scott Brown of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Scott Brown of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Scott Brown of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Scott Brown of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Paul Gogo of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Paul Gogo of Trooper performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Joel Plaskett performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Joel Plaskett performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People use their phones to record a Trooper concert at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People use their phones to record a Trooper concert at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on September 3, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Jared Salte of The Royal Foundry performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Jared Salte of The Royal Foundry performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
concerts
Bethany Schumacher of The Royal Foundry performs at Wood Buffalo Ribfest in Fort McMurray on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

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