Stick to the ribs

NILES – The sound of music and the smell of barbecue filled the air, as the 28th year of the Eastwood Rib Fest kicked off Friday.

Vendors from around the country lined the parking lot behind the Eastwood Mall, but the intense heat may have kept people away during the day.

Brian Parker, a cook with Johnson’s BBQ from Chesapeake, Va., served the sparse crowds and hoped the sun going down would help the turnout.

“The heat is definitely playing a part,” Parker said. “It has been pretty slow all day. This is part of it, though. We take a chance by coming out here and we just have to hope the people show up.”

The Eastwood Rib Fest features eight rib-makers, 10 other food concessions and 30 companies in the marketplace section.

Chuck Nichols of Texas Pit BBQ knew when he woke up Friday morning things might be slow during the first day of the event.

“I can’t really call it a disappointment because of the weather,” Nichols said. “With the entertainers that they have lined up, we expect it to turn around in the next couple days.”

The crowds did begin to pick up later in the day, when Friday’s feature band – Georgia Satellites – prepared to take the stage.

After one year without having the event, Kelly Simon Event Management took over operations for the first time this year. She’s in the process of seeing what works and what doesn’t.

“We’re starting to see a nice amount of people coming through the gates and that started after 5 o’clock,” Simon said. “Next year, we may consider just opening at 5 and not even doing the daytime.”

Still, Simon believes the rib fest started smoothly and she anticipates an exciting weekend.

“I’m very pleased with the way that the vendors are laid out,” Simon said. “Most of the events that we do, we don’t even do a Friday day, because people are still at work.

“It’s been just about what we’ve expected. Friday’s a great day in the event business, because during the day, we can get all the bugs worked out,” she said.

A tent facing the stage gave many attendees a break from the sun and a chance to eat, drink and enjoy the music. Kevin Beatty of Niles came out specifically to hear the main attraction.

“I’m looking forward to checking out Georgia Satellites,” Beatty said. “I saw them years ago when they opened up for Tom Petty. That was probably in 1988 or 1989.”

Terry Huston and his wife, Cheryl, made the 25-mile trek from New Middletown to take in the food and sounds.

“The heat doesn’t bother us, because it’s going to be hot no matter where you go,” Terry Huston said.

Meanwhile, Simon is expecting crowds to pick up as the weekend progresses. The entertainment begins at noon today with The Movement, followed by Angel Blue & The Prophets Band, Leddfoot, Haymaker, and Starship at 8 p.m. to cap off the night.

“We wanted to plan it so each day was a little different,” Simon said. “Friday was more a county and southern rock day. Saturday will be more focused on gospel and blues during the day and then of course Starship to finish up.”

The doors will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The final act on Sunday night will be Fran Cosmo, the former lead singer of Boston featuring Anthony Cosmo.

“We will have a little bit of everything on Sunday,” Simon said.