Barbecue festival planning major upgrade in '23

·3 min read

Apr. 2—This year's Bar-B-Q Block Party on May 13-14 will be a little bigger than last year's pandemic-reduced event.

But it won't be as big as the International Bar-B-Q Festivals that the city hosted from 1979 to 2019.

Just wait til next year, though, Allen Payne, festival chairman, says.

The full festival will return in 2023, bigger and better, he said.

"Next year, we want to bring in some nationally known entertainment and barbecue teams," Payne said. "We want to attract a national audience by bringing in big names. We want to draw more people from outside the area."

Payne said, "We couldn't afford someone like Luke Bryan, but maybe bands like 38 Special. People like that."

Back in 1995, the festival brought in Kenny Chesney, a few years before he became a major name in country music.

Payne said he's hoping to bring international attention to the festival in the future.

That happened in 2017, when Joey Chestnut, ranked No. 1 in the world of competitive eating, swallowed 55 four-ounce sandwiches in 10 minutes.

That's 13.75 pounds of mutton.

A French-Canadian television crew from Montreal was here to film it.

Chestnut will be back in Owensboro for the Bar-B-Q Block Party on May 14.

He'll be doing a "Meat & Greet" from noon to 1 p.m. by the Kentucky Legend sampling tent on Second Street.

Chestnut will also be a celebrity judge for the Backyard Cooking Competition that afternoon.

"We want to attract traveling cooking teams that have TV shows," Payne said. "We'd like to get names like Jack Daniels. We got a lot of national attention and people who came because Joey Chestnut was here. We want to make the festival truly international."

He said there are some major plans that he can't talk about yet.

Payne said, "We're trying to raise money to bring in bigger names. It needs to be an upscale festival. We have to keep evolving. We don't need things like a keg toss. You have to go with the flow or the flow will go without you."

The name — International Bar-B-Q Festival — may undergo some changes, he said.

"We want to combine a down-home feel with a city feel," Payne said.

"We want to take food and entertainment to the next level and still help local businesses," he said. "We don't want so many pizza and hotdog trucks down there. We want things like ice cream, specialty drinks, different food, more upscale food."

Payne said he's been on the festival board for 22 years.

"We used to have celebrity judges," he said. "I'd like to see that again."

Having Chestnut as a celebrity judge this year re-starts that tradition.

This year, meat prices have skyrocketed, forcing barbecue restaurants to raise their prices.

Will that impact the Block Party next month?

"We don't think it will," Payne said. "Burgoo is $20 a gallon and sandwiches may go up 50 cents. But it shouldn't have much of an impact."

Church cooking teams will be barbecuing mutton, pork, chickens and some new items as well as cooking burgoo.

But there won't be judging again this year.

Payne said he hopes the Governor's Cup trophy for the best cooking team will return in 2023.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301,