The Great Midwest Ribfest at Mystic Lake: Where Ribs, Food, and Music Come Together

Headliners The Fray and Rick Springfield Rock Out To Capacity Crowds at Ribfest

Rick Springfield, Rock, Mystic Lake, Ribfest

Last updated on August 11th, 2023 at 05:10 pm

The three-day Great Midwest Ribfest at Mystic Lake featured fun and overindulgence of barbecue and the music of Pam Tillis and Clay Walker for “Country Night,” American Authors and The Fray for “Modern Rock Night,” and Tommy Tutone and Rick Springfield for “Classic Rock Night.”

Pam Tillis opening the 2023 Great Midwest Ribfest at Mystic Lake Casino. Photos by Brett Allen Photography..

The first artist on stage was Pam Tillis, the lady known for her powerful voice and her famous dad Mel. The Grammy Award winner played a 12-song set featuring some of her greatist hits and “Burning” in memory of her father.

Tillis opened with “Mi Vida Loca,” which usually comes towards the end of her set. Showcasing one of the purest country voices in music today, her performance was highlighted by “Shake the Sugar Tree,” “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” and her biggest hit, “Maybe It Was Memphis,” which had the entire crowd swaying and singing along.

In a surprise move, Tillis ended the show with a cover of Collective Soul’s “Shine,” throwing in some twang to turn this classic rocker into a fantastic country-rock hybrid. Who knew Pam Tillis could rock? 

Clay Walker, Country, Mystic Lake
Clay Walker headlining Country Night at the 2023 Great Midwest Ribfest

This was my first time seeing Claying Walker live, and I walked away surprised and a new fan of a country great that joins a long line of wonderful storytellers.

Taking several requests and playing many covers, Walker impressed me with his version of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” While not perfect, it brought the crowd to life and he seemed genuinely happy to be singing it.

In addition to requests, Walker played many of his hits including “Rumor Has It,” “If I Could Make a Living,” Live Until I Die,” “This Woman and This Man,” and “What’s It to You.” His performance didn’t use theatrics or fancy lighting to entertain the crowd, relying instead on his voice and stories.

Zac Barnett, American Authors, Minnesota, Minnetonka, Rock, Pop, Mystic Lake,, Ribfest
Minnesota native Zac Barnett engages the crowd while opening for The Fray, 2023 Great Midwest Ribfest

“Modern Rock Night” started with a performance from American Authors, who came close to delivering my favorite show of the festival. I learned that lead singer Zac Barnett grew up splitting time between Los Angeles and Minneapolis, graduating from Minnetonka High School in 2005.

From their cover of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” to their breakout song “Best Day Of My Life,” everything about them was loose, energetic, and just plain fun. I was left wondering if they always deliver performances like this, or if it was special for them as a “hometown” show. 

The Fray, Rock, Ribfest
Headliners The Fray play to a Great Midwest Ribfest crowd.

The crowd seemed to double for the evening’s headliners, The Fray, who opened with midtempo rockers “You Found Me,” “All At Once,” and “Closer To Me.” Formed in 2002, the Fray broke into the mainstream way back when MySpace was a thing. Luckily they outlasted MySpace, building a multi-decade career undoubtedly strengthened by performances like this one, which the audience ate up.

I particularly enjoyed their covers, which took us back to the 90’s and 80’s with “Champagne Supernova,” and “Don’t You Forget About Me,” respectively. They ended the night with two songs that helped push them into stardom, “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and an encore of “How To Save A Life.”

Great Midwest Ribfest, Mystic Lake Casino
Mystic Lake delivers their donation to the Dream Of Wild Health organization.

The final day of the Great Midwest Ribfest is completely different, beginning with a secondary stage for an eating competition, the final judging and awards for the best ribs and fan favorites, and the presentation of a $10,000 donation by Mystic Lake to Dream Of Wild Health to further their mission of restoring health and well-being in the Native Community.

Miki Sudo devouring just over 5 Lbs. of ribs on her way to winning the Great Midwest Ribfest eating competition

If you’ve ever watched competitive eating on TV, odds are it was the hot dog event that Joey Chesnut crushes every year. Personally I find that disgusting to watch, like a bad horror movie that you continue watching despite your best judgment. Luckily the rib eating competition isn’t nearly as disgusting.

This year’s competition came down to finalists Nicholas Wehry, 2022 Champion Geoffrey Esper, and Miki Sudo. While Wehry settled for 3rd place, Esper ended up in 2nd by inhaling 4.2 lbs of ribs, a full 1.6 lbs off the mark from his win last year. Sudo dethroned Esper by wolfing down 5.2 lbs. of ribs on the way to hoisting the coveted championship belt above her head.

Miki Sudo, The Great Midwest Ribfest, Competitive Eating, Mystic Lake
Miki Sudo proudly holding her rib eating championship belt

Sudo did something a lot of people consider taboo by touching the championship belt before the competition started. By winning the contest, she proved once and for all that superstition is plain stupid. Thank You, Miki!

Big Boned BBQ, The Great Midwest Ribfest, Mystic Lake
2023 Great Midwest Ribfest Champions, Big Boned Barbeque

The pre-music festivities finished with the Rib Competition Awards. Rounding out the top 5 for this year were: #5 Chicago BBQ, #4 Austin’s Texas Lightning BBQ, #3 Minnesota’s Just North Of Memphis, #2 Carolina Barbeque, and Grand Champion Big Boned Barbeque, led by another Minnesota-based pitmaster.

The Great Midwest Ribfest, Mystic Lake
The Great Midwest Ribfest’s winners showing off their new hardware

Fan-voted best of The Great Midwest Ribfest went to Just North Of Memphis, and the best sauce went to Texas Lightning BBQ.

Tommy Tutone, Rock, Ribfest, Mystic Lake
Tommy Tutone on the main stage of the 2023 Great Midwest Ribfest

Tommy Tutone opened “Classic Rock Night” with the shortest set of the festival. Judging by the crowd reactions, the measly 20 minutes might have been too long. Lead singer Tommy Heath’s jokes and dry humor fell on deaf ears, with many getting grossed out when the 76-year-old asked who wanted to go skinny-dipping with him later.

Fortunately the crowd did enjoy listening to his five songs, including big hit “867-5309/Jenny,” which brought the crowd up to dance and sing with him.

Rick Springfield, The Great Midwest Ribfest, Rock, Mystic Lake
Rick Springfield headlining the Great Midwest Ribfest’s “Classic Rock Night”

Even at the tender age of 73, Rick Springfield carries an outsized ego for an artist whose career was built in the 80’s. It doesn’t hurt that the Grammy Award Winning songwriter also acted on General Hospital, authored a best-seller, and now spins tracks for Sirius XM’s “80s on 8” as The Working Class DJ. This is a guy who had the crowd sing happy birthday to him in the middle of hist set…more than two weeks before his actual birthday.

Nevertheless, Springfield backed up his bravado by taking command of the stage from the first song, “Affair Of The Heart.” While his voice doesn’t quite reach the heights it used to, he can still conjure nostalgia and put on a hell of a show.

Rick Springfield, Mystic Lake, The Great Midwest Ribfest
Rick Springfield rocking out during “Living in Oz.”

He even delivered some comedic moments during a medley of several songs. When “Bop ‘Til You Drop,” transitioned to “Bruce,” he yelled out “hey, my name is Rick!” After swapping into “867-5309/Jenny,” he pointed to the side of the stage and said “that’s Tommy’s!” as Heath poked his head out. Springfield extended the medley with “Don’t Walk Away,” “Rock of Life,” and “What Kind of Fool Am I,” before finishing it with a teaser of “Jessie’s Girl.”

The night closed with some of the biggest hits, “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “Human Touch,” and “Love Somebody.” But there wasn’t a true encore; Springfield merely stepped off stage while footage rolled from a video montage of actors singing “Jessie’s Girl.”

Rick Springfiel, Rock, Mystic Lake

The dedicated fans that came out were integral to the evening’s success; one fan had a sign saying the show was her 45th Springfield concert. And they continued a tradition of tossing up a bouquet of roses for the singer to smash with his guitar, sending the flowers through the air like confetti.

Conceited yet humble, strong yet loveable, Springfield still delivers enigmatic and entertaining performances.

Written by Brett


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