Plans are starting to come together for the second edition of a festival that became one of the area's biggest last fall in only its first year.
Capitalizing on the proliferation of meat-cooking competitions of all kinds, the first Kentucky State Barbecue Festival in Danville brought in an estimated crowd of more than 25,000 people Nov. 5 and 6. Brad Simmons, who founded the event along with his wife Cindy, expects to build on the success with a bigger and better feeding frenzy Sept. 8 and 9 at Constitution Square Park.
“We have new things in store we are working on,” Simmons said. “We hope to have more demonstrations and more food-related talks, yet maintain all the music people loved and, of course, give them all that wonderful competition-quality barbecue. We want to make it even bigger and better than last year.”
The festival will feature live music throughout the day and vendors selling various barbecue, bourbon and beer related items, as it did in its inaugural incarnation. However, the main attraction for the carnivorous throngs will again be a chance to sample food from cooks who are now celebrities thanks to barbecue-themed cable television shows.
Simmons, who goes on the road with his own barbecue rig as “Lucky Dog BBQ,” expects to welcome back the group who introduced many in Danville to the term "celebrity pitmaster" and add popular names to the roster.
“Every one of the individuals we contacted from last year said ‘We’d love to come back to Danville because we were treated so well,’” Simmons said. “They felt like Danville gave them a big hug.”
One of the newcomers will be celebrity cook Brad Orrison, whose “The Shed” restaurant grew from the outbuilding it was named for in Ocean Springs, Miss., to include six stores across the South. Simmons expects Orrison to wow the crowd with his barbecue but also turn heads with his Jeep: he has converted the entire vehicle into a cooker.
Most of the others in the crew of grand champions and local culinary legends will be familiar to those who attended the festival in 2011.
The lineup should again feature competitors on the popular The Learning Channel show “Barbecue Pitmasters,” such as Melissa Cookston of Memphis, Moe Cason of Des Moines, Iowa, and Craig Kimmel of Orlando, Fla. Shelly Hunt with Desperados Barbecue and Catering in Angola, N.Y., and Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker in Nashville, who makes a highly acclaimed barbecue sauce, also likely will make a return appearance.
Simmons also is talking to Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe, a fixture on the Food Network and a star attraction last year, about returning to do demonstrations. Tim Farmer, host of "Kentucky Afield" on Kentucky Educational Television, is likely to reprise his demonstration of how to prepare and cook wild game.
What separates the Danville event from other barbecue cookoffs is that top meat mavens are working for the crowd and not focused on pleasing judges. During competitions, people eat other festival food but cannot eat what the star cooks are making.
So many people are interested in learning about how the cooks do what they do so deliciously, though, Simmons said he wanted to include more vendors. While he is still looking for ways to offer more instruction for the aspiring pitmaster, the barbecue boom has made recruiting vendors difficult because so many companies have booked their staff and equipment at other events well into the fall.
This second annual festival actually will take place a month earlier than last year on the weekend traditionally reserved for the Constitution Square Festival, which was run by the state for many years before the Heart of Danville took it over and it was re-dubbed the Constitution Square Arts Fest three years ago. When it was announced in March the arts festival would not be happening, there was discussion about including an arts and crafts component.
The backdrop, though, is where the connection between the two events will end, Simmons said.
The barbecue festival is simply moving into a prime time of year for outdoor event weather, day-length and location, Simmons said. It is not replacing the Constitution Square Arts Fest but instead is fulfilling the organizers’ vision of celebrating barbecue, brews and bourbon.
One way artists may be involved on the periphery of the event is a decorated barrel auction.
Simmons said artists, sponsored by local businesses, will paint the barrels. The vessels for the state's signature libation will then be auctioned off and stationed around town in the same way horses in Lexington and pigs in Chicago have become kinds of public art.
While they tinker with added attractions, Simmons said he and the rest of the team planning the event also are focused on accommodating what they now know could be a large and hungry audience.
Because of last year’s large numbers, Simmons said he was urged by some to look at other locations with more open space, overtures he resisted because he believes the quaint atmosphere downtown is part of the event’s charm. He would like to have more space, though, and is looking for ways to best configure the grounds and allow crowds to spill over into some streets surrounding the park.
Unlike last year, Danville Police Department is asking for more than the $25 special event fee (see related story). Police Chief Tony Gray, whose job description includes event permitting, said the barbecue festival will be the first attempt at implementing a new plan to recoup some of what is spent for policing, such as officer overtime.
Gray said the fee structure is still a work in progress, but an event the size of the barbecue festival requires additional manpower for at least two days. The city is asking for $500 a day, which Gray said does not completely cover the cost of policing — including alcohol enforcement — and other responsibilities the city undertakes.
Simmons said he has spoken with Gray and others with the city about the situation. Although he understands extra police are needed, he noted that a tax on alcohol sales is intended to cover alcohol-related enforcement.
“We hope the town will see the value in bringing in all of those people,” Simmons said. “I think most people see that, but maybe there are some who don’t.”
So far, Gray said he has not received an official application for the festival, but he continues to be in communication with Cindy Simmons about potential street closures and other issues. Brad Simmons said he is still focused on making this year’s event the best it can be where it is.
SO YOU KNOW
For more information on the Kentucky State Barbecue Festival, including how to contact organizers to volunteer, how to apply as a vendor or a sponsor, and updates on the schedule, visit www.kentuckybbqfestival.com.