Detroit's annual Ribs and R&B Music Festival returns to Hart Plaza this weekend, filling the air with the smell of sweet, smoked meats and the sound of soulful live music. 

Event producer Johnnie Washington has been executing this event — headlined this year by Avant and Vivian Green Saturday night and Jon B. and former Shalamar frontman Howard Hewett Sunday night — for more than two decades. 

He said the outdoor, riverfront event is "a food delight" with about 30 vendors from all over the country serving barbecue, lamb chops, fish, chicken and other festival-forward chow. 

The main attraction is the music, though. Washington says VIP seating for the main concerts are close to selling out, but with a sprawling site like Hart Plaza, there's plenty of good vantage points for watching more than 40 performers on two stages. 

Besides the R&B headliners, the festival's lineup is chock-full of homegrown talent, too, with local singers like Alise King, Denise Davis & Motor City Sensations, Veronica Washington and a whole lineup of gospel acts, including the Burning Bush Mass Choir. The 100-member ensemble is scheduled to perform 5 p.m. Sunday. 

"One of the blessings of being in Detroit is that we have world-class talent," said Washington, adding that Friday in particular will be loaded with local performers. "I'm so proud of our young artists they're promoting. They're looking like the stars that they want to be and I think it's going to be a fabulous night, and we're happy that our event can give them the platform to really be highlighting and showcase their talent." 

Disability Network of Detroit and Crime Stoppers are sponsors of this event, which Washington expects to draw tens of thousands of people over three days. Both organizations will be out for a few hours each day with giveaways. Disability Network plans to give away backpacks full of school supplies to about 500 children each day of the event on a first-come, first-served basis.

Washington says his event doesn't use food tickets, allowing attendees to purchase food directly from each vendor. There will also be a cash bar. 

The Ribs and R&B Festival is one of the few events that has continued consistently at Hart Plaza year after year through the city's changes. 

"We're really grateful to city council and the mayor's office that we're a part of new Detroit," he said. "A lot of things have changed, but we have been right there through the whole change over the last four or five years."

He said the appeal of the Motown sound and R&B music is universal. 

"It cross boundaries of culture, so what we've done is just increase that awareness of quality music and quality food and bring in national and international recording artists. We are just making sure we have something for everybody over the three days."

Twitter: @melodybaetens 

Ribs and R&B Music Festival

11:30 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sun.

Hart Plaza

Jefferson at Woodward, Detroit

Free admission until 5 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun. $5 after that, and $10 after 8 p.m. all days.

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