Bar-B-Q Block Party returns today
May 13—The Bar-B-Q Block Party, a scaled-down version of the International Bar-B-Q Festival, makes its return to downtown Owensboro this weekend.
The party, which debuted last year, starts at noon today and runs until 9 p.m. Festivities will continue from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.
The event was largely a one-day festival last year. The International Bar-B-Q Festival was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The festival board decided to move forward with the block-party format again this year, but it extended the schedule to two days because of the positive reception it received last year from participating churches and other participants.
Tim Ross, Owensboro's director of public events and a festival board member, said he is looking forward to being able to put on an event that is more similar to those of years past.
According to festival officials, the event will return to its barbecue-focused roots, featuring church cooking teams' traditional burgoo and barbecue.
"We're excited because of the fact that we're kind of past the pandemic phase of COVID," Ross said. "Last year, we had really good crowds throughout the day, but yet it was still in the middle of COVID, so they were a little bit less. So we didn't program as much with the festival itself."
Allen Payne, the festival board chairman, said returning to normalcy will be a boost to everyone involved.
"I'm looking forward to just kind of getting back to the normal festival that it's been," Payne said. "With COVID and everything going on over the last year-and-a-half, it's not been like the true festival feel, so just trying to get back ramped up and going again."
Ross mentioned that while the event will still be scaled back in some ways, they have added another dozen barbecue vendors, and he anticipates big crowds this year based on the weather forecast.
Other happenings this year will include the return of the carnival, with rides and games along Second Street near the Blue Bridge, east of Daviess Street, and live music on the front lawn of the Owensboro Convention Center.
There will also be the Owensboro Family YMCA BBQ Fest 5K, which starts at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Competitive-eating champion Joey Chestnut will be in attendance Saturday. He will be a celebrity judge for the Backyard Cook-Off competition and will hold a "Meat and Greet" from noon to 1 p.m. by the Kentucky Legend sampling tent in front of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.
"The festival continues to evolve; every year, it's just a little bit different with the things that get added or get taken away," Ross said. "The focus is strictly on barbecue. All the vendors that are there, besides the carnival area itself, all the vendors are barbecue items or barbecue food."
While the focus will be on the barbecue, Payne and Ross look forward to the social aspect that events like the block party bring to the community, where people are able to enjoy time with friends and family, while also being able to support local entities.
"I just like seeing people in the town out and people having a great time and out together," Payne said. "Everyone talks about, with the pandemic, it really has put a (dampening) on people being out and seeing (each other). I just like seeing everybody out and having a good time and the community getting together and people flourishing."
Payne and Ross said that events like this not only entertain the public, but also help with the city's economics in a number of ways.
"Our focus has gotten back to barbecue, and we're focusing on our local economy, and that's part of the downsizing that is allowing our downtown restaurants and vendors and our local food trucks to come down and be the focus and be the driving source for the food and entertainment, and filling up our hotels and our other partnerships throughout the city," Payne said. "We just want to focus on that moving forward."
Ross agrees that the Bar-B-Q Festival has an unmeasurable positive impact on the city.
"Everything that we do has got two components to it — one is an economic driver, and then two would be the quality of life aspect ... for the local community to enjoy an event," Ross said. "I've had emails from people this morning ... coming in from Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, coming to see the Bar-B-Q Festival.
"We know that we get visitors (to) come to town, and that impact is seen. It's not how much the city is going to make directly ... but all of the businesses that are in town, whether it's the churches at the festival, the vendors at the festival or somebody stopping to get gas before they head home or spending a night at a restaurant, that's that impact number that comes through, (and the) Bar-B-Q Festival is certainly one of those."
For more information about the event, visit bbqfest.com.