Updated: August 15, 2013 7:05AM
YORKVILLE — Chris Funkhouser couldn’t have gotten a nicer day Saturday if he had been able to order it up at one of the ribbers’ booths downtown here.
“It’s perfect,” he said, gesturing toward “ribbers row,” where seven amateur cookers of barbecue pork or beef ribs served up the fruits of their labors to the crowd at Ribs on the River.
The festival, in only its second year, was almost a tableau of small-town American summer, with the rib booths, vendors, political tents, music stage and the river itself bathed in sunlight, punctuated by just enough breezes to cool the hot day.
Joined at the hip with the Illinois Whitewater Festival, Ribs on the River portends to become a summertime staple, growing more each year. For Funkhouser, the event organizer who also is a 3rd Ward alderman in Yorkville, Saturday was the perfect culmination of almost year-round organizing efforts.
Ribs on the River is not a sanctioned rib event. The seven participants Saturday are amateurs, united only in a love of good food and fun.
The Whitewater Festival featured some races, but mostly people getting lessons on taking the rapids on the Marge Cline Whitewater course that runs alongside Riverfront Park.
“It’s been very steady, people coming by all day,” Funkhouser said, looking at people both along ribbers row and by the whitewater course. “The crowds will get bigger tonight.”
That’s when Epic, the headliner, took the stage with its bigger following, and the Saturday night party crowd.
As it was, the ribbers were preparing for the bigger crowd, having already successfully surpassed expectations during the day.
Bear BQ, a partnership of Yorkville resident Tom Beizaks, with friends Michael Esquivel and Joe Cavender, was defending its title as champions of Ribs on the River last year.
“And this will be the second,” a confident Beizaks said, while noting that they will always carry the title of the very first winners of Ribs on the River. Cavender said they started with 108 slabs this year, more than twice the 50 they started with last year.
“We ran out,” he said. “Not this year.”
At the Kendall County Republicans booth, Joe Gillespie, a county Republican leader and head of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, said they started with 130 pounds of meat, and by about 3:30 p.m., had served about half of that.
“People are just hungry,” said Ed Laurent, a volunteer standing next to Gillespie.
The irony of Republicans serving pork, instead of railing against it, was not lost on the Kendall group.
“Our pork feeds everyone,” their sign read, right next to GOP, with the words Grand Old Pig.
“Well, we haven’t had any negative feedback yet,” Laurent said with a chuckle.
Nearby, 26-year-old Jane Nevers, who came from Lisle for Ribs on the River, admitted she liked the Kendall GOP ribs so much, she would vote them as the best.
“And I don’t usually vote for Republicans,” she said.