BBQ Festival History

history 1

From humble beginnings in 1994, the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival in Tryon, North Carolina, has grown to be the biggest annual event in Polk County, one of the most popular festivals in Western North Carolina, and one of the premier barbecue events in the nation. This year, the Festival celebrates its 20th Anniversary!

Around Polk County, the festival is known simply as “The Barbecue,” as in, “Are y’all going to the Barbecue this year”? It brings together thousands of Polk County residents who join in to throw an annual party for their regional neighbors. Planning begins in August for the following year’s event, with a volunteer steering committee brainstorming ways to enhance the experience of the up to 25,000 attendees. The pace of work gradually builds for ten months, reaching a peak in the final days leading up to the second week in June. When the gates open on Festival Friday, an army of several hundred friendly volunteers is on hand to serve the guests, who have come from as far away as California, Maine, and Florida to experience barbecue in the shadow of the Blue Ridge.

The seeds of the festival date back to 1992, when barbecue legend, Jim Tabb, had the idea of hosting a barbecue cook-off in his own home town. Jim is a retired airline pilot and internationally acclaimed barbecue judge. By using his connections in the barbecue world, Jim was able to pull together a field of 24 cook teams and as many judges for the first Blue Ridge Barbecue in 1994. One secret to this festival’s success has been Jim’s insistence on inviting only the best, most experienced barbecue judges to our event. This consistent quality of judging gives potential cook teams the assurance that their entries will be judged fairly, without the danger that an inexperienced judge will throw off the results. As a result, combined with the royal treatment they receive at the hands of our volunteers, the field of competitors has grown each year—with from 70 to 90 participating in recent years. The total prize purse of totaling more than $21,000 doesn’t hurt participation, either.

The event is held at Harmon Field, a quintessential Polk County location at the foot of Warrior Mountain along the banks of the Pacolet River. Participants and visitors enjoy the tranquil beauty of the site as well as the “isothermal effect,” a local geographic phenomenon that makes the Harmon Field area several degrees cooler in summer than surrounding locales. Obtaining the coveted North Carolina State Championship designation from the Governor added prestige. Former Governors James B. Hunt, Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue, and our current Governor Pat McCrory have renewed the championship designation every year. That honor goes to the highest scoring North Carolina team competing.

The 2016 Festival will again offer great music on two stages both days—the Main Stage plus the smaller (shadier) Riverside Stage, the Foothills Craft’s Fair, and a Kids and Teens Fun Park with carnival rides and games. The Sixth Annual Classic Car Show will be held all day Saturday, and a “grand finale” fireworks display will light up the sky after dark on Saturday. Gates open at 10am and close at 11pm both days.

In 2006 the Festival Committee introduced the Going Green Initiative—which they believe was a first for barbecue events—and over the years since we have reached an yearly average of 13,000 pounds of waste diverted from our landfill.

The Blue Ridge Barbecue & Music Festival is conducted under the auspices of the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce. Proceeds from the Festival help support Chamber operations, and any additional funds go to the Polk County Chamber Foundation to be returned to the community through distributions to a variety of programs and projects throughout the county.

© 2016 Blue Ridge BBQ & Music Festival - 272 Harmon Field Rd, Tryon, NC 28782