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For Pig Out in the Park organizer, it’s all about fun

Mon., Aug. 29, 2011

Bill Burke has been the man behind Pig Out in the Park in Riverfront Park for 32 years. (Dan Pelle)
Bill Burke has been the man behind Pig Out in the Park in Riverfront Park for 32 years. (Dan Pelle)

Bill Burke, 59, will oversee his 32nd Pig Out in the Park from Wednesday through Monday at Riverfront Park.

This year’s Pig Out features 54 food booths, 82 bands and 225 menu items, none costing more than $8.95.

In a recent interview, Burke looked back at an event that has served nearly 2.5 million customers in three decades.

Q.Where and when did the idea for Pig Out originate?

A.I was executive director of the Spokane Central Business Association, and my real reason to put on Pig Out was to have a free music festival in Spokane. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10 years old. We needed a big music event in Spokane. Cities with half the park we have had music festivals, and I said we should, too.

I pitched it to everyone I could. But I said it was a food event, a restaurant fair.

Q.How did the name Pig Out come about?

A.The first four years it was called everything, (including) the “Riverfront Park Restaurant Fair.” The fourth or fifth year, Bob Takeshita, a graphic artist in town, said “Let’s just call it Pig Out this year.” The media jumped on it and showed more interest than ever before. That sealed the deal.

I hear it every year: “Why do you call it Pig Out?” For fun! It’s all for fun. There are no causes. We’re saying come on down, have some fun in the most beautiful park in America and see a free show. And eat something. That’s how we pay the bills. This costs about $300,000 to do.

Q.At Pig Out, you see Spokane in all its reality: rich mingling with poor and a few homeless folks wandering by. Why is this a good thing?

A.It is truly an opportunity for the entire community to celebrate itself. And who and what we are. There are no walls. There’s no admission. In Spokane, we’re not cheap, but we’re notoriously thrifty. So it’s always been my goal to make Pig Out the best buy possible.

Q.You’ve done Pig Out for 32 years. Why aren’t you fat?

A.I walk a lot. I have a Labrador retriever I walk from 10 to midnight every night – rain, shine, sleet, hail, snow. And I’ll lose 11 to 13 pounds at Pig Out because I walk 150 miles over six days.  

Q.What do you eat there?

A.A little bit of everything. I’m in every booth every hour. We partner with the Spokane Regional Health District. We have a responsibility to the public to make sure we do it properly. So I am checking their water. I’m checking their fire extinguisher. I’m making sure they are using gloves. I look in their eyes.

Q.What are you looking for?

A.Are they too tired to be there? Are they smiling? I’ve got to keep them laughing and having fun. That’s how you make money. Keep in mind all this fun comes back to capitalism. Is it a pleasant experience? And if it is, people normally loosen up with their cash.

We must create an environment that draws about 90,000 people in six days. We’ll do about 190,000 servings of food. Total sales on site – about $1.2 or $1.3 million. Total economic impact in Spokane – about $4.7 million a year. Isn’t that fun?

Q.Anything you’d like to add?

A.This year I see anxiety in people’s faces. They are being told every day how bad it is. People begin to believe it. That’s why they go to Pig Out. There’s no message here except “Eat something, for gosh sakes.” That’s how we pay the bands.


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