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Event of porcine proportion

Coordinated effort keeps Pig Out festive, food-filled and free

The way Bill Burke tells it, Pig Out in the Park’s defining moment came on a Saturday night in 1999, when the Grammy award-winning reggae artist Shaggy performed in Riverfront Park.

“It went from the usual dinner party of 10,000 people to about 25,000 in 30 minutes,” Burke said.

Since then, Pig Out has been as much about the music as the food, according to the event’s founder and promoter.

In its 29 years, Spokane’s annual Labor Day weekend event has metamorphosed from an outdoor food venue for a couple dozen local restaurants into a six-day extravaganza that might be the largest free music festival west of Chicago, according to organizers.

This year’s lineup features 75 acts – including country headliner Ricochet and Lucinda Williams – performing on three stages Wednesday through Monday. The nonprofit Six Bridges Arts Association’s two beer gardens and a wine garden will pick up a lion’s share of the $156,000 entertainment tab.

“My biggest joy is being able to provide free entertainment to Spokane,” Burke said between cell phone calls as he marshaled his forces in Riverfront Park this week.

His biggest aggravation, he said, is having to turn away hundreds of vendors and bands wanting a spot at the Pig Out trough, where $1.2 million is expected to change hands.

Burke calls it “community revitalization,” and rattles off this year’s expected numbers as proof: 185,000 servings and 90,000 people served by 42 vendors, down from last year’s high of 57 vendors.

“It was just getting too crowded,” Burke said as he speed-walked from the City Hall stage to the Clocktower stage, finding a site for an arriving vendor or two along the way.

As far as the food is concerned, Pig Out has outgrown its “bite of Spokane” image, in which local vendors offered modest portions for under $5. These days, it’s more likely to be a heaping helping served up by an out-of-town vendor for nearly $10.

Getting all the vendors hooked up is the task of the “Mayor of Pig Out,” Val Workman, president of the Six Bridges Arts Association and event operations manager.

The biggest change over the decades, Workman said, is the layout. The booths have been stretched from the City Hall stage to Clocktower stage.

It’s all about water, power and public safety, Workman said. Traffic flow is also crucial, and he ensures there’s plenty of room for emergency vehicles.

As the vendors arrived on Tuesday, Walkman assigned them a spot based on their operational requirements, setting up the biggest trucks and tents first and filling in around them with smaller operators.

When an employee asked him how he managed to acquire the use of a much-needed extra refrigerated trailer, Workman answered, “three T-shirts and a couple of meals.”

Contact Kevin Graman at kevingr@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5433.

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