Saturday, October 22, 2011

Plenty of pork in this barbecue barrel

Early this morning, I made my annual pre-dawn trek down Main Street to take in the 28th Barbecue Festival before it officially opened to the public. I mean, you could still see a few constellations blinking in the morning sky.

This is a traditional thing for me. I just want to scout out the scene before hundreds of thousands of voracious pork eaters descend on the city, inevitably bouncing off each other like human pinballs. Oddly enough, by about 10:30 a.m., I gladly become a pork eater, too.

Anyway, while strolling down Main Street this morning, I mentally took note of the fact that there seem to be more vendors setting up than usual. If that's indeed factually true, I think that might be in response to the success of last year's Festival, which drew an estimated record 200,000 visitors from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By 9 a.m. the Barbecue Festival crowd was already growing larger.
Wow. That's the equivalent of nearly two fully-packed Michigan Stadium crowds in Ann Arbor showing up for the Michigan State football game. How can a vendor resist that?

And guess what? The skies are blue, the temperatures are mild, and the promise is heavy that this year's Festival could be even bigger. Is that even possible?

I have several friends who make plans to get out of town the day of the Festival simply to avoid the crowds and the congestion. Normally, I do my best to avoid crowds, too. That's why I hit the streets at 7 a.m.

But this is a little different. Given that unemployment in North Carolina is now 10.5 percent, and no doubt even higher locally, I say bring it on.

My early-morning foray showed there are others like me, too. I bet there were hundreds of visitors already scoping out the Festival terrain before daylight. One or two even had made a purchase. It's unbelievable.

Fried bacon? Gaack, gaack, heart attack.
Some early sights: People were already lining up for the limited supply of Fine Swine Wine; I heard several different languages being spoken, including Spanish and Italian (although I'm pretty sure not to each other); and I spied a vendor who was advertising "Fried bacon." Apparently, anything porcine goes. Lord, have mercy. Fried bacon.

And, finally, a word about Festival founder Joe Sink.

Joe was my boss at The Dispatch for at least 25 of my 30 years there. It was his vision that gave birth to the Festival and brought it to fruition. I recently asked him if his vision ever saw the Festival heading into its 28th year and becoming the massive annual destination that it has become, and he conceded that he did not. He wasn't sure it would last 10 years, much less grow.

Sometime soon, it would be nice if Joe was recognized as more than "Honorary chairman" of the Festival. Maybe a historical marker on the Square would be nice. Or a statue next to the Confederate soldier. Something. Anything.

Even a slab of fried bacon would seem somehow appropriate.

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