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Appetite for Pig Out has grown over years

Wed., Sept. 2, 2009

Launched in 1979, downtown festival offers more than food

If this were a marriage, it would be the pearl anniversary. But when it comes to the 30-year love affair between Spokane and Pig Out in the Park, the appropriate symbol is more swine than pearl – from the pig on the poster to the pork in the sausages.

The annual festival of heaping plates and free music opens its six-day run today in Riverfront Park. It’s become such a staple of late summer in Spokane that organizer Bill Burke has a little trouble remembering its origins.

“I was 6 when I started it,” he joked Tuesday. “Maybe 7.”

The event offers 42 restaurant booths serving more than 225 menu items, ranging from gyros to hamburgers, from egg rolls to elephant ears. With an eye toward the economy, Burke has lowered the maximum price for food items by a dollar, to $8.95, and knocked 50 cents off the top drink price.

The year’s musical lineup reflects the rise of concerts and entertainment at Pig Out. Burke proudly cites the festival’s selection by Pacific Northwest Inlander readers as the top outdoor music festival as a sign that Pig Out has grown beyond a food fair.

This year’s headliners include Cracker, Lukas Nelson (the son of Willie), and The Tubes – who put on one of Burke’s favorite Pig Out shows in 1998.

One thing that will be new this year is a wedding. Burke heard from a Moses Lake couple whose first big trip together was a visit to Pig Out in 2002 and who make a point of returning every year. “We’re gonna hitch ’em,” Burke said. “I’ve always wanted to get somebody married at Pig Out.”

Jack Gibson, 56, and Kim Knox, 45, will get married at 4 p.m. Saturday at the City Hall stage, Burke said. Gibson said he and Knox had decided Pig Out would be the perfect place to get married – perhaps nearby in the park – but ran into trouble arranging it.

“We were just about to give up on the whole idea,” he said.

Then a friend put them in touch with Burke. The next thing they knew, their wedding was on the Pig Out schedule.

“We didn’t really plan on being a Pig Out in the Park event,” Gibson said. “We thought we’d just be a sideshow. … Before you know it, we’re squeezed between a couple of bands and getting married on a stage.”

Burke started Pig Out in 1979, with 28 food vendors under two tents, serving food over three days.

“We shared common noise and common smoke,” Burke said.

But it was a hit immediately, and it grew steadily over the years. As the crowds swelled, Burke added days and expanded the entertainment. A few years back, it grew to its present six-day run, and that may not be the end of it. “I’ll probably go to seven days in the future,” he said. “People dig it, and I always ask: Why not?”

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