FARGO — Preparing for the annual Happy Harry’s RibFest is a lot of work, but this year, it’s happy work for Rob Sobolik and his staff at the Fargodome.

“It’s a good feeling,” the Fargodome general manager says. “We’re getting back, close to our first regular event in 16 months.”

The coronavirus pandemic closed the facility for months. Even when events returned, like North Dakota State University Bison football games, crowds were limited to accommodate social distancing.

The Fargodome is taking precautions and following safety guidelines for this year’s RibFest, but in many ways it will look, smell and sound the same as before.

Seven national cookers will be set up to sell their own takes on barbecue ribs, chicken, pulled pork and typical side dishes. New this year will be Carolina Rib King from South Carolina.

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Also new this year is Bite Squad, which will deliver barbecue meals around town all day.

Cowboys BBQ &Rib Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, seen here at the 2012 Happy Harry's RibFest, will return to the event this week. Forum file photo
Cowboys BBQ &Rib Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, seen here at the 2012 Happy Harry's RibFest, will return to the event this week. Forum file photo

One thing missing this year is inflatable games and attractions for kids, as the cleaning logistics made it hard to justify. Removing the games also gives more space for visitors to spread out.

RibFest usually competes with CMA Fest in Nashville to book country acts, but this year that event was canceled, allowing the Fargodome to bring in three country acts — John Michael Montgomery, LoCash and Dylan Scott — instead of the standard one or two. Warrant is this year’s sole rock act.

“Country artists seem to be a little more aggressive getting out on the road,” Sobolik says.

“We’re all looking forward to that concert piece of it,” says Sarah Dykema, director of marketing and sales at the Fargodome, adding that she’s been counting the days — 496 — since Jason Aldean was the last touring act to play the Fargodome.

Sobolik says the Fargodome won’t be booking many more shows for the rest of 2021, and Guns N’ Roses on Aug. 11 is currently the only show on the books.

“We’ve been rooting for this since the beginning of the year. It was always something we were pushing for,” says Dykema, who will be working her 12th RibFest. “It’s something to look forward to, to get outside. It’s the kickoff to summer.”

The four-day event usually draws around 50,000, but Sobolik knows that number may not be reached this year.

“This year, maybe we’ll hit it. This year our goal is to put on a great event and hope people have a great time. We’ll be happy with four great days of fun,” he says. “We’re just really excited. It’s the smell of barbecue and fried food. Summer is here. It’s time to look at everything and say, ‘Let’s go.’”

If you go

What: Happy Harry’s RibFest

When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, to Saturday, June 12

Where: Fargodome, 1800 N. University Drive

Lineup:

  • Wednesday: 7:30 p.m. Rucus, 9 p.m. Warrant
  • Thursday: 7:30 p.m. Slamabama, 9 p.m. John Michael Montgomery
  • Friday: 7:30 p.m. TBA, 9 p.m. LoCash
  • Saturday: 6:30 p.m. Zach Thomas, 7:30 p.m. Bryan Loweree, 9 p.m. Dylan Scott

Info: Admission is free from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and $5 after; parking is $5; https://www.happyharrysribfest.com/