Rockin’ Ribfest Recalls First Meeting with Horror Host Svengoolie!
Less than 48 hours after seeing Svengoolie at the “Joliet Slammers” game (story featured HERE), I found myself headed out to see him yet again. This time the location was Northwest of Chicago in the rural town of Lake in the Hills, Illinois and the occasion was their annual “Rockin’ Ribfest.” Although the terrible heat and humidity that had plagued his baseball game appearance had since dropped, they had still managed to drain me. Therefore, despite my reputation on Facebook as being a certifiable “Svengoolie Stalker” (a title I wear like a geek badge of honor), I have to confess that I was ready to forgo this outing in favor of a day of rest. Fortunately, my 14 year old son, Alex, had just returned from a month long trip to Colorado the day before and had no intention of missing a chance to see his favorite host along with a slab of BBQ ribs.
Oh yes, dear reader, that was the other major selling point of this excursion….ribs! I may have had to psyche myself up to sit through a baseball game but eating is one thing I have no such reservations about. To top it off, the event was for a good cause as all proceeds would be given to the LTH Rotary Charities so my gluttony could be construed as noble.
It was a 90 minute drive up to this event, located in a portion of Illinois that, while certainly pretty in the summer, seemed much more suited for the Fall & the Halloween season. We passed lots of farms, a big sign that advertised “Dave’s Pumpkins,” and even drove through a town named “Sleepy Hollow” which sported a Headless Horseman on its “Welcome” sign. My sister, Lisa, used to live near these parts before moving with her family to Delaware, and I remember visiting her while enjoying fresh cider from a local orchard. I REALLY want to return here again this Fall so, note to McHenry County businesses, PLEASE book Svengoolie this October!
After we arrived, we entered the carnival portion of the event which featured various games designed to appeal to different demographics (but not mine).
The entire festival was shaped like a big “U” and, once you passed around the curve, you arrived at the heart of the event. Lined up, side by side and across from each other were various vendors each selling their award winning BBQ ribs and sauce! Many not only boasted their awards but sat their trophies out front as a means of enticing hungry patrons.
At the far end was a stage where “Live” Rock concerts played throughout the festival and, in a small tent located to the right of that, was where Svengoolie was slated to meet fans. We arrived at around 11:30am and Svengoolie was scheduled to appear at noon, with the line of fans already forming. Alex and I got something to drink and decided that we’d wait to get ribs until after greeting Sven.
I was standing in line day-dreaming, while thanking God this wasn’t yet another 100 degree day, when something appeared to be off, and it seemed as if too much time had passed. I checked my phone and it was 12:25 pm and still no sign of Sven. I started noticing other people checking their phones/watches as well while looking around and fidgeting. A police officer monitoring the fest walked over to get a closer look at the signing booth (as if Sven had shrunk and you had to be within 5 feet too see him) before shrugging to his partner several yards off as if to say, “Where’d he go?”
A gentleman standing in line behind me turned to his female companion and said, “Looks like he’s running late.” She responded jovially, “Well, honey, you know that’s how some celebrities are. They like to be fashionably late.” I’d turned to the couple and said, “No, you don’t understand. I have seen him many times and he is NEVER late. This is not like him at all. He’ll be here soon, I’m sure.”
But the reassurance I gave them masked my true worries as both my anxiety and my imagination kicked into overdrive. I broke into a sweat as I had a clear vision of my childhood host, trapped in his Sven-mobile, while screaming in terror as it rolled over into a ravine. Probably out in the middle of nowhere and hidden by those ominous corn fields that I actually found quaint on my ride up here. He had a look of terror on his face, like the one on his “It came from Berwyn” T-Shirt only not quite as funny. His signature make-up was dripping down his face due to the heat of the burning car while the smell of melting rubber chickens permeated the air via wafts of smoke that were an affront to the otherwise cloudless sky! He’d..
“Did you say you’ve met him before?”
I was knocked out of my reverie by a nice lady standing in front of me. “Huh?”
“Is Svengoolie nice?” she asked.
This was something I noticed during his last appearance at the “Slammers” game. Just like two days before, most of the people coming to see him here (many fans since his “Son of Svengoolie” days) were people that had never met him before. I noticed that many of these people were very concerned about Sven’s temperament. The pleasant woman in font of me was part of a nice looking family (I want to say she said there last name was Thay but, if I am wrong, please contact us so I can correct it) which included her husband, young son, and a baby she cradled in her arm.
I assured them that he would be VERY nice and they then asked other questions, like if I knew how long he’d been on TV. She definitely asked the right person as I immediately broke into a Svengoolie history lesson, often receiving nods from other people in line as they’d smile with recognition at the mention of such words as “Channel 32,” “Koz Zone,” and “Son of Svengoolie.” Whether I inspired them or not, it definitely kept my mind from delving into worrisome places. Her and her husband explained that their son was a fan of Sven too and that every Saturday he cheerily announces that this is night he’ll be on TV. They said that he has no problem sitting through the Universal classics to see Sven, and even enjoys these screen gems, which directly proved what I had said back at the Horrorhound Induction ceremony…that Svengoolie has now become the national ambassador for these films.
Suddenly Svengoolie and Jim Roche appeared walking across the field towards the tent. While the audience cheered, one events volunteer stated that they had taken a wrong turn en route (thankfully, not into a ditch) which was why they were late. Jim admitted to the line that it was his, as the driver’s, fault while jokingly suggesting Sven made him say that. Svengoolie told everyone that it was because they made a detour through Berwyn which brought big laughs.
Soon after he began signing, I noticed a man that looked about my age wearing the current Svengoolie T-Shirt (which you can order by clicking HERE) while holding one of the latest Svengoolie placards that are signed and given to fans for FREE whenever he makes an appearance.
The man had a look on his face that seemed an even mixture of joy and relief as he called out to one of his friends standing further back in line. “It’s okay!” he yelled. “He’s really nice!!!” It again struck me how people are so concerned about this but, after looking at the man’s face, I realized that it was not that long ago when I had that same concern.
I remember back in 2003 when I met Svengoolie for the first time. I had brought two of my young children, Alex & Leia, out to The Ford City Mall to see him. Sven was appearing as part of a WCIU promotional event and, in stark contrast to the long lines I’ve encountered these past few years, was sitting all by himself. I remember seeing him in person for the first time and totally freezing.
There he was…the horror host I had watched when I was 9 years old and on into my teens, sitting in front of me. I was was afraid to approach him, cowardly sending my kids to go up while I’d safely stand back and take pictures. For a monster kid like me, the horror hosts we’d grown up with, and who brought us the movies we loved, were like all the celebrities of the world rolled into one and far out-shined ANY “A-List star that the misguided mainstream magazines saw fit to worship.
The idea of meeting the person you idolized in your formative years (and still watching today with your own kids) and finding out he was a JERK was a painful prospect! So how scared was I of discovering the truth? Well let’s just say that I never uttered a word during our first meeting and just stood there, ten feet away, sporting a goofy grin. He looked up at me and smiled and I stared back like a deer caught in headlights. Oh yeah, that went REAL well! All I remember at the time was that I was staring at a horror host and somehow had the sensation that my own childhood was looking back at me.
Fast-forward nine years later and here I am now, with a teen-aged Alex, exchanging “hellos” with Sven as casually as if we were neighbors. We snapped some quick shots of him ogling some ribs I had sent Alex to get when we were close to meeting him, and then moved on so others who’d never met him before would have the honor to do so. By this time we left the tent, the line was intense!
We decided to sit nearby Sven’s tent so we wouldn’t waste any time devouring those ribs. I had given Alex some money and told him he could surprise me with whatever vendor he chose. He ended up buying them from one called “PIGFOOT” which I’m hoping is a sign that somewhere in that video-gamer’s body, my monster genes are lying dormant and patiently awaiting activation.
While getting our faces and hands covered in BBQ sauce, I saw a familiar face! It was Svengoolie Super Fan, Jamie Lee Cortese, and her family arriving late but eager for another encounter with Sven.
I joined them at the back of the line and we talked about everything coming up in the Chicago horror world while I urged her to come to G-Fest this weekend to not only see Svengoolie but to attend my Terror Dave forum on “Horror Hosts and Godzilla” after his signing. When they reached Sven, I snapped some more shots of them. After that I said a few quick words with Sven and, by the time I turned around, the Cortese family had disappeared (probably sick of hearing me talk and running for the exit). Alex and I left the RibFest and decided to see THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN at a nearby theater.
And so I dedicate this post to all those Svengoolie fans out there who have considered meeting their favorite host, but are afraid of being disappointed. Let me assure you that you have absolutely NOTHING to worry about. I encourage you to check out our Friday Horror Host Report, visit svengoolie.com, and make plans to see him at his next scheduled event (which, as I mentioned, is G-Fest THIS weekend so please come see Sven and then stop over and see my forum after wards). Take it from fans like me and the Cortese family…visiting Svengoolie can be downright addictive…..like PIGFOOT BBQ sauce!