And now it’s time for the “other” July holiday.
Of course, we marked the Fourth of July late last week, and I’m sure many enjoyed a day off work, perhaps some time at the lake or a trip to the movies, and probably more than a few fireworks. As you might have guessed if you’ve ever read this column with any regularity, I detonated my fair share of fireworks this Independence Day. I’m nothing if not enamored with incendiaries.
With that nationally recognized holiday just in the rearview, Greenwood and the Lakelands area can turn its attention to an event that, during the course of nearly two decades now, has become something of an unquestioned local July holiday: the three-day Festival of Discovery. Uptown Greenwood’s annual barbecue and blues bash, which has risen from humble beginnings to become, genuinely, one of the most revered barbecue parties in the Southeast, kicks off on Thursday and will run through Saturday.
More than 90 barbecue teams and scores of other vendors will be on-hand for the event, which a year ago drew nearly 40,000 people to the city center and continued to be one of Greenwood’s most reliable tourism-related economic engines, with a fiscal impact or more than $2.5 million.
The festival has grown more diverse through the years, and I’m sure that everyone has their own favorite aspect. For some, the blues and other music that will flow from stages across Uptown are likely at the top of the list. Indeed, it’s probably the most prominent live music weekend in the Lakelands all year, at least in terms of the sheer number of bands that will be performing.
Others may prefer to peruse the arts and crafts fair, or let the youngsters cut loose at the Kid Zone at the Uptown Market down on Maxwell Avenue.
And there are doubtless quite a few folks who will show up to gaze upon the Besto’s hot dog eating contest at noon on Saturday. Equal parts fascinating and revolting, the hot dog eating event seems to have gained popularity through the years. Part of the reason I’ve always found it intriguing is that some of the competitors are clearly in it to win it, downing an insane, and possibly dangerous, number of hot dogs in the time allotted. Meanwhile, there’s always at least one guy in the contest who clearly just signed up for a free lunch. You know, the guy who eats three hot dogs and then feigns, “Oh, I’m so full, I couldn’t possibly go on.”
One thing will be different about the hot dog eating contest this time: the MC. For years, former City Manager Charlie Barrineau hosted the event. But, with Barrineau having left the city for a job with the state Municipal Association, it appears Mayor Brandon Smith is set to MC the contest. While I’m sure he’ll do well, Smith has tough shoes to fill in following Barrineau. I always got a laugh out of watching the typically pragmatic Barrineau morph into a raging taskmaster at the hot dog contest, constantly goading contestants to push their limits and, at times, simply screaming, “EAT! EAT!”
But my favorite part of the festival is probably the most obvious: The barbecue. Oh, all that smoky, delicious barbecue. It’s amazing to encounter all of the different styles, flavors, variations and sauces. (I’m a mustard man, but I won’t discriminate against a good vinegar or even a sweet red.)
The only problem, and it can be quite a dilemma, is that, when I arrive at the festival on Friday evening (I still believe that Friday night from 6 to 10 is the “sweet spot” of the bash), I can never figure out which vendor I want to get food from. With dozens of teams and vendors, and with so many options, the decision can be agonizing. I see other people going through the same deliberations, asking their friends and other patrons which spot has the best ‘cue. When in doubt, I think it’s wholly appropriate if you see somebody with a plate of food that looks particularly delectable, to approach them and ask, “Where’d you get that?” I believe in transparency and the free flow of information, particularly when it comes to pulled pork.
So, happy summer holidays, everyone. With all due respect to Christmas crooner Andy Williams, we all know that, when the smoke starts rising, it’s the real and true “most wonderful time of the year.”