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Sudbury Ribfest making a comeback Labour Day weekend

New organizer has dealt with some controversy this week related to a Facebook post recruiting bands for the festival
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An image from the 2019 Downtown Sudbury Ribfest. Ribfest is back after a two-year hiatus with a new location and new operator. (File)

After last running in 2019, a popular Sudbury summer festival is making a comeback over the Labour Day weekend (Sept. 2-4), although the location has been changed to Bell Park’s Grace Hartman Amphitheatre.

Ribfest, which often had an attendance of more than 50,000 people, previously took place in Greater Sudbury’s downtown core, and was put on by the Downtown Sudbury BIA.

But like so many other events, Ribfest was scuttled during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The organizer of Ribfest 2022, Kelsey Cutinello of KC Events and Promotions, said Downtown Sudbury also decided that even if COVID restrictions were lifted, the group would no longer pursue large events due to the demands on its small staff complement.

Cutinello said some of the ribbers who previously participated in the event contacted the City of Greater Sudbury’s tourism department, asking if anyone else could put on Ribfest in the Nickel City, and the city contacted her.

“It's a wonderful event for the community,” she said. “They actually say it's one of the largest events in Northern Ontario, and I was sad to see that it wasn't going to happen. So I thought it was a great opportunity for my company as well, and, having met the rib teams, and seeing what was involved in it, I figured I can handle the workload of it.” 

Cutinello is an entrepreneur who has owned several businesses in Greater Sudbury.

That includes the La Fromagerie restaurant in downtown Sudbury, DIY Craftery and Lounge (which she’s since sold), Northern Axperts (an axe-throwing business) and The Barber Shop. 

Cutinello’s two barbershop locations at local strip malls were destroyed in suspicious fires earlier this year, but she told Sudbury.com she has since reopened the business in a new location at 1400 The Kingsway.

The entrepreneur said as part of her events business, she’s organized events including an EDM music festival, college and university events and the Downtown Sudbury Christmas Market.

Cutinello said she decided to move Ribfest from the city’s downtown to the Grace Hartman Amphitheatre, as it’s a much easier location to host a large event.

It already has infrastructure in place such as a stage with power, washrooms, an ATM, wifi, fencing and garbage cans.

“If you were to do this in the downtown footprint, you actually have to bring all of that in, and the manpower required” is prohibitive, Cutinello said.

She said the challenge with moving the event to Bell Park was finding room for the ribbing trucks, which are 40 feet long.

Ribfest 2022 features five rib teams (down from the usual six), including Boss Hog’s, Ribs Royale, Crabby’s, Texas Rangers and a newcomer, Silver Bullet.

Then there are the usual side vendors, including Tornado Potato, Bloomin’ Onion and many more. “My favorite thing is the corn on the cob,” Cutinello said. “I have to go every year just for that.”

Other aspects of the event that are returning are children’s activities (such as inflatables) and live local entertainment, as well as an AC/DC tribute band on the Saturday evening.

Cutinello said the event will support local charities, including YMCA Sudbury (which was also supported by the previous iteration of Ribfest), as well as the downtown clean-up program.

The entertainment at Ribfest 2022 sparked some controversy earlier this week, after a Facebook post (since removed) by a third party sought bands to take part in Ribfest on an unpaid basis, upsetting many in the local arts community.

On behalf of Northward (a radio show created by Sound Labs Studios), Paul Ouelette later made a post on the Sudbury Music Scene Facebook page (also now removed), referring to the previous post making the call-out for bands.

“We did this as a favour for an acquaintance seeking to leverage our connections and out of excitement to be involved in a high-profile local event,” he said. “We did not think it through, and given our business, our involvement was ill-considered. The backlash was immediate and warranted, coming from the arts community, and privately from friends.”

He said Northward has “since stepped away from this project and are no longer involved with recruiting talent for the Ribfest.”

Sudbury.com reached out to Cutinello about the issue, but she put the situation down to a “game of telephone.”

“The positions are paid, they've always been paid, and they will be paid this year,” she said, offering the explanation that “there's a person that I had helping me try and recruit musicians and he told his father in passing, and his father is the one that made that post.”

Cutinello said how much performers are paid (with money, she adds) depends on how many people are in the group and how long they’re playing.

Ribfest 2022 runs from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sept. 2 and Sept. 3, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 4. Cutinello said admission is free. For more information, visit the Facebook event page or website.

Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com. She also covers education and the arts scene.