There’s a buzz in the air around Uptown — City Manager Julie Wilkie said the trucks, trailers and tents preparing for this weekend’s Festival of Discovery.
Cars slow down to see what the commotion is about, Wilkie said, and as 6 p.m. today traffic will be cut off to make room for the flood of vendors and competitive cooking teams that will make Uptown their home for a few days.
“This event goes so fast for us, it feels like we were just here running this last week,” Wilkie said, watching as some of the cook teams set up their stations beside her.
Stretching from lunch Thursday to the barbecue competitions Saturday and awards ceremony that night, the Festival of Discovery offers Greenwood a taste of all the barbecue it can muster, and gives cooks the chance to compete in a Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event.
At the Smoke This BBQ truck, cooks Scott Jarrett and Steve Finger were setting up the metal scaffolding above the truck that holds up their signs and menus. The men were taking a break and said they were grateful for the cloud cover keeping the heat at bay.
Finger said they’ve been coming to the Festival of Discovery from Hickory, North Carolina for years — it’s one of his favorite competitions each year.
“We’ve been coming down since 2007, and we’ve been vending since 2009,” he said. “I mean, they’ve got a forklift sitting for us right over there. We’ve got a big cooker coming in that’s going to need something like that to move it, and the city is always helpful. Anything you need, you contact Julie or any of her people and they’re Johnny-on-the-spot.”
Their focus is on competing, though vending helps pay for the expenses, Jarrett said. It costs about $1,000 in materials to compete, and he said they cook for about 15 competitions a year nowadays.
Randall Knight, owner of Nard’s Backyard BBQ, said he leaves his competition cooking to a team of people that help him. He’s not focused on competing — as owner of a full-time catering business, he’s here for sales.
“I have someone come in and do my competition cooking so I can focus on the vending,” he said. “We get a lot of interactions with corporate customers.”
Usually, he said it takes all day for him to set up the Nard’s tent by himself. On Wednesday, though, he had two helpers and managed to have the set-up nearly finished by about noon. The tent is right across from the main stage for the Blues Cruise, where various musicians will spend the weekend treating Uptown to a near-nonstop concert. Knight said his tent puts him at some of the best seats in the house.
Teams have come back for more than a decade, continuing to compete and sell at the Festival of Discovery, which Wilkie attributes to the city’s goal of serving the cook teams as best it can. That, she said, is what’s grown the event over the years from a handful of teams to the sprawling barbecue festival it is today.
“We pride ourselves on being a team-friendly event,” she said. “That’s what makes our event successful, and it’s made that way by the staff.”