Sunday, October 27, 2013

Festival of festivals

This week's Dispatch poll asked readers "How many Barbecue Festivals have you attended?" The choices were incremental, ranging from none (a shocking 17 percent said they have never been to one. I'm guessing my brothers in Iowa and Alaska were respondents) to 30.

By noontime, the Barbecue Festival crowd was enormous.
This year, of course, was the 30th annual Festival, and I happily became one of the 5 percent to check "30." Many of those years I had to go because I was covering events like the Hawg Run (held on Festival morning back in the day) for The Dispatch. I suppose the bulk of the five percent were also long-time Dispatch employees.

But I also wanted to be there. Every year. It's a neat thing.

With perfectly clear, crisp October weather in the air, with former Lexington resident and "Pawn Stars" patriarch Richard "The Old Man" Harrison on stage and with wildly popular singer Darius Rucker heading up the New Country Q 104.1 Q-Jam (get it? 'Cue Jam?), I knew the crowd would be outrageous.

For the past five years or so, former Dispatch publisher Joe Sink, Festival co-founder, lifetime Honorary Chairman and official crowd counter for publication, has figured the attendance to be around 200,000, appropriately reflecting the growth and popularity of his child. Most people chuckle and mumble, "Yeah, right" when Sink gives his apparently outlandish estimates, but I happen to think he's been pretty much on the money each Festival.

Now, for the first time, Lexington Mayor Newell Clark estimated the floating day-long crowd to have been 200,000, giving government sanction to Sink's figures. In fact, if Joe declares this year's crowd to have been 210,000, I'd find it to be a reasonable estimate.

The crowd on the Square for the Q-Jam was gigantic. (Click pic to enlarge)
Once again, my wife, Kim, and I got an early start, hitting the vendor tents around 8 a.m., and already the people were filling the streets.

By 10:30, I'd purchased my traditional barbecue sandwich for my traditional Festival brunch. The barbecue itself is usually a conglomeration of the five participating restaurants, and some local epicureans think it's not worth the $5 for what they consider to be the bland offering they get. They say it's not restaurant quality.

They miss the point. First off, by my taste buds, the barbecue actually has been pretty decent the past few years. But beyond that, on this particular day, you're not buying the 'cue because you like a certain restaurant. You're buying it because it's the Festival. It's part of the celebration. You're there, and it's now. That's the point. That's the whole point.

Meanwhile, the crowd was growing. And when the long anticipated Q-Jam began in the Square, well, forget it. You weren't going anywhere. People who reached the Square during the jam diverted to either of the two back alleys to get any movement at all. I'd never seen anything like it before.

By 4 p.m. — after nearly eight hours of shopping, perusing, walking, resting, wine-tasting and commiserating — we made our way back home, exhausted and satisfied.

Am I crazy? Maybe.

But I'm already looking forward to the 31st annual Barbecue Festival.

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