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June 12. 2013 8:54PM

Rock'n Ribfest promises 3 days of food and fun in Merrimack


John Lowe, co-owner of Jack's Down Home BBQ in Philadelphia, cooks a batch of ribs during the Rock'n Ribfest held at Anheuser-Busch in Merrimack last year. Union Leader File 

MERRIMACK — It will be barbecue heaven this weekend for thousands of people expected to attend the 11th annual Rock'n Ribfest, which will kick off Friday.

Organizers anticipate up to 35,000 attendees for the popular event sponsored by the Rotary Club of Nashua West.

"We are in total bliss right now. We are working diligently to set up the grounds, and if the weather works in our favor, everything should go smoothly," said Randy Smith, one of the event organizers. "Family fun is really what this is geared toward."

The three-day event begins at 4 p.m. on Friday at the grounds of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

Sunday's activity kicks off with the Ribfest 5 Miler road race and Kids' Piglet Runs, followed by free early admission entrance to Ribfest for all participants.

Eight major rib vendors from as far away as Fargo, N.D., and as far south as Pennsylvania will be grilling their specialities this weekend, according to Smith.

A barbecue taste testing will be available Friday night, along with a professional grilling demonstration. On Saturday night, the first comedy show will take place inside of the brewery, coupled with a superstar karaoke competition on both Friday and Saturday evenings.

"The James Montgomery Band is always a favorite, so they will be back this year," said Smith, adding hot air balloon rides, air stunt shows and, of course, beer will be available.

In addition, about 40 competitors will try their luck in the New Hampshire State Barbecue Championship.

Many inflatable bounce structures will be set up for the children, along with musicians and other kid-friendly activities. Organizers expect a great turnout for Sunday's awards ceremony for the best barbecue.

Performing this year on the center stage will be The Slakas, The PopFarmers, The Psychedelic Relics, Gary Hoey, Giving Moon and Beau Badrick. A teen band competition has also been planned.

Each year, the event seems to pick up momentum, said Betsy Houde, volunteer coordinator. Past rib vendors have included T-Roy's Hickory Smoked Barbecue from Amherst, which has won the People's Choice award for best ribs at least three times in the past 10 years. Other vendors have included Big Moe's M&M Ribs, Rasta Joe's BBQ, Aussom Aussie, Firefly's, Jack's Down Home BBQ, Gator BBQ Co., Smoke'N Dudes and Firebox.

Judges will sample food from the estimated 40 grilling competitors and select a New Hampshire State Barbecue Champion, who will qualify for the National Barbecue Championship this fall.

In addition to ribs, pulled pork and barbecued chicken, more traditional fare will also be offered, including roasted corn, fried clams, apple crisp, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, fried dough, pizza and more.

Sunday's races start with the Kids' Piglet Runs at 8:45 a.m. The Ribfest 5 Miler follows at 9:15. In addition to free entry to Ribfest, all registrants 21 and older receive two tickets for a free beer. The first 1,000 runners to register also receive a tech shirt, and the first 200 Piglet Runs participants to pick up number bibs receive a T-shirt.

Military Appreciation Day is Sunday. Free admission will be available to active military members with their military identification and up to four family members.

Music, entertainment, strolling artists and performers will fill the grounds of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery for the three-day event, which will be held rain or shine. All of the money raised from the festival will be distributed to local nonprofit organizations. In the past, the rotary has raised about $100,000 from the Rock'n Ribfest.

Smith is optimistic that proceeds from this year's ribfest will exceed $160,000.

The Anheuser-Busch Brewery is located at 221 Daniel Webster Highway. The event will run from 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday (with a special 10 a.m. opening for road-race participants) and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7 at the gate, and children under 8 are free. New this year, the New Hampshire International Speedway will provide an open-air trolley for attendees parking at the nearby Elbit parking lot. Traditional bus shuttles will ferry guests to and from the nearby BAE Systems parking lot. The Union Leader is among those in the business community sponsoring the Rock'n Ribfest. For more details, including a complete schedule, go to ribfestnh.org.

khoughton@newstote.com


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