Blakley says sponsors, volunteers made the event a success
“Overall, I think it exceeded my expectations because we didn’t really know what to expect,” said Evan Blakley, Chamber & Development Council (CDC) of Crawford County executive director.
Blakley spoke with the Bulletin and Review on Wednesday to give his thoughts on the 2021 Tri City BBQ Fest, which was a production of the CDC.
“With everything that was going on, I definitely thought Friday would maybe be a little bit lighter in attendance than in a normal year, but by 7 or 8 on Friday night, I was blown away by how many people were out on the street,” he said. “It honestly looked more like a typical Saturday for us.”
Blakley said he had some concerns, during the week leading up to the event, about having enough volunteers.
“We were concerned about how many volunteers we would have, and if we’d be able to keep all of our stations and rides open,” he said. “Kudos to the community for stepping up and coming out in force to help us because I was never aware of any moment when we had anything understaffed or anything we had to close down.”
He credited the success of the volunteer organization to the volunteer managers, Nan Bornhoft, Lukas Bornhoft, and Tami Long.
“This was a new position,” Blakley said. “They did a great job keeping everything staffed and having really great communication with our team of volunteers. Thanks to that, I think we were able to provide a really great visitor experience.”
He said he didn’t get any complaints all weekend.
“That’s rare – there’s always something that happens,” Blakley said. “I saw a lot of smiling faces.”
He said the new additions to the Kids Zone went over well.
“The line for the balloon artist was always long; we probably could have had two more of him,” Blakley said. “I know people had a lot of fun with the characters (Spider-Man, Captain America, and Elsa and Anna from “Frozen”) and having Adamagic the Magician there added a little something special for a few hours on Saturday.”
The cancelation of two of the bands (Rukkus, and Lake and Lyndale) at the last minute was a curveball the CDC had to catch.
“The bands we were able to book as replacements (Gallivant and Wild Ambition) generated a lot of compliments,” he said.
The amateur barbecue competition was one of the weekend’s few letdowns.
“Only one team showed up for the amateur competition,” Blakley said. “I’m pretty disappointed with that because we worked hard to get the word out there, and we got in touch with all the teams we had in the past.”
The amateur competition still had a silver lining.
“The amateur team that was here had a really good time and they also placed in the pork chop contest, even though they were cooking against pro teams,” Blakley said.
He said he would have liked to have seen a few more professional teams in the KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) competition but the teams that came had a great time.
“A lot of prize money was given out,” he said. “It was still a good contest – just a few teams short of what we were aiming for.”
Blakley’s estimate is that between 6,000 and 8,000 people attended the event on Friday, and between 8,000 and 10,000 people attended throughout the day on Saturday.
“Every indication shows we should turn at least some profit again this year,” he said. “If that’s the case, we’ll be pleased just to continue building the resources of the festival.”
He noted that the event had strong, possibly record, beer and soda sales.
“A lot of our vendors had record years, as well, for their food sales,” he said.
Blakley said no one is getting rich from the festival. The Tri City BBQ Fest is a nonprofit event; CDC employees are not paid from the proceeds.
“Everything gets reinvested into the next year’s festival, if there is a profit,” he said. “Every indication is that this should be a phenomenal year when we get the books complete, but it’s pretty hard to say until you get the very last invoice in and we get all of our payments out. It will be a couple of weeks before we have a better idea.”
He said the BBQ Fest has enjoyed good weather for all eight years (including for the “Brew and ‘Que” in 2020), and the rain last Friday morning during setup was not a problem at all.
The CDC is already looking forward to next year’s event.
“Every year we learn a few things that help us tweak and polish little details here and there,” he said. “I think our volunteers continue to learn and recruit new people. I’ve learned to trust our managers and trust our volunteers because they really do care and they don’t need to be micromanaged. They will figure things out and make the experience better.”
He emphasized that the event would not be possible without sponsors.
“I believe we had a record-breaking year with sponsorships,” he said. “We knew we couldn’t count on anything like that this year, but this community loves this event and they want to ensure we keep doing it. They continue to step up, year after year. Without all the great sponsors, we wouldn’t be able to make this happen.”
He said the sponsors wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t believe the Tri City BBQ Fest has a big impact on the community by bringing new people to Denison.
“It’s great marketing for Denison and Crawford County.” Blakley said. “It has an economic impact on the community. As long as it’s successful, we’ll keep doing it.”