Sunday, October 28, 2012

Festival time

After my previous blog, in which I wrote my Master's thesis explaining how 200,000 people can squeeze into nine blocks of Uptown Lexington for the annual Barbecue Festival, I feel compelled to give a crowd estimate on this year's event.

So how many people were here? Don't ask me. I dunno.

Ask Joe Sink.

Sink, the former publisher of The Dispatch and a founder of the event 29 years go, now serves as the Festival's honorary chairman and people counter. He is on the record as saying this year's crowd was as large as last year's, which he estimated to be 200,000 in both 2011 and 2010.

He may be right, although I think there are some indicators to suggest the crowd was a bit smaller this time. The weather (the most critical factor) was dicey as wind-blown and wide-ranging millibars from a potential offshore hurricane brought overcast skies and threatened rain most of the day.

The noontime crowd on the Square seemed smaller than in past years.

 Conse-quently, I think fewer people showed up. It felt like there was less jostling and shoulder bumping on Main Street during the early hours of the Festival. Also, the number of cars that use the parking lot in the business behind my house did not seem as full later in the day as in previous years.

So I'm guessing somewhere between 180,000 to 190,000 people showed up. Inevitably, not all Barbecue Festivals are going to be jam-packed — relatively speaking, of course.

Having said that, my wife, Kim, and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves this year. Usually, we arrive around 7:30 a.m. to beat the crowd and stay until about 10 a.m. or so. Then we skedaddle before the hungry throng becomes ravenous and simply devours you.

That was our original plan for this year, too. So after our traditional 10:30 barbecue brunch, we headed back for home — until we heard Lexington's Ken Davis and his trio-plus-one performing on the local stage and froze us in our footsteps. That kept us for another hour.

It was here that Kim ran into two high school classmates, Kelly Sink and Becky Frazier. Together, the three of them sat on the asphalt of First Avenue in front of Ken's performance and planned a spontaneous 34th annual class reunion for that evening.

Underhill Rose performs at the Barbecue Festival.
Afterwards, Kim and I took a 45-minute break to recoup. We nixed the idea of going home, because we wanted to see Underhill Rose perform at Stage 4, which would happen in less than an hour. So we made one more quick loop through Main Street, using sidewalks and alleys as rapid transit shortcuts.

Underhill Rose is a collection of three talented women from Asheville — they like to call their contemporary bluegrass as "smoky" and "rootsy," but I like to call it the Asheville Sound — and thanks to High Rock Outfitters as a cozy venue, they've developed a nice fan base here in Lexington.

Anyway, we listened to them for nearly 90 minutes as they bravely soldiered on under a swaying stage canopy that was a little bit unnerving to watch. When they were done, we got to speak with them for a few moments as we bought a CD and a T-shirt that they were selling out of Tupperware containers. (I just love struggling artists. Everything about them is so raw and genuine. You hope they eventually hit the big time but do it without ever changing who they are.)

In all, Kim and I stayed at the Festival for more than eight hours and spent about $100. What, are we nuts? We've never done either before.

But the day was not finished. We still had two after parties to attend: a floating Halloween gathering at 6 p.m., and then Kim's impromptu class reunion at a local restaurant at about 7:30.

Even after numerous phone calls to others in their class, the reunion turned out to be Becky, Kelly, Kim and me. And I'm not even in their class.

So we started the day with hundreds of thousands of acquaintances, and ended up in comfortable conversation as four good friends.

It was perfect. It was something you could really count on.

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