by Susan Mikula Campbell
The barbecue, the music and the competition will be hot Aug. 13 to 15 as the annual Smokin' Eagles International BBQ Festival sets up in its new location near the Erie Canal in the Tonawandas.
There will be more competitors and vendors than the previous two years that the event was held in Wheatfield, according to organizers Roy (Honcho) Gregory of Wheatfield and Robert J. Giordano, president of The Barbecue Shop Inc. in Lewiston.
Without the problems previously caused by political infighting that marred last year's event, the barbecue can return to its original intent - "to have a little fun, make new friends and raise money for charity," they said.
Tonawandas Gateway Harbor Inc. is co-sponsoring the barbecue this year. Among the welcome assistance Gateway is providing will be the cost of the insurance and the bands, plus a good sound system, Gregory said. Showers for the barbecuers and Wi-Fi also are available. "They are bending over backward to help us out."
The competition portion of the event includes the Open, with a grand prize of a ticket to the invitation-only Best of the Best competition in Douglas, Ga.; the Backyard BBQ for adults not ready yet for prime time; and the Kids-Q for future champs.
Last year there were 28 teams involved in these events. This year, Gregory is expecting about 40. Competitors are coming not only from Canada, New York and New England, but as far away as Illinois, South Carolina and Florida.
When it comes to music, the schedule is: Friday, Aug. 13, Naughty Dawg, from 7 to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 14, Whiskey River, 3 to 5 p.m., followed by Ken Riber and Cold Steel from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and ending the night with Underground Stampede from 8 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 15, DJ, noon to 3 p.m. and True Fate from 3 to 5 p.m.
On Friday, gates are open to the public from 4:30 to 11 p.m. It's a chance to talk to open competition cooks, try the vendors and listen to the music.
Saturday is the open competition for that ticket to Georgia and the pie-baking contest. The awards ceremony is at 5 p.m. The gates are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday is the Backyard and Kids competitions, with the awards ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Gates are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Competitors will be setting up on Young Street, where the rides were during the Canal Fest last month, and the vendors will be on Sweeney Street.
There is no admission cost to the public, although a silicone wristband will be sold for $1 to help support the event. No food, drink or pets will be allowed to be brought inside.
Organizers said the only disappointment for them this year is that the new Art of Ribs in Lewiston is being held the same weekend. They don't think that fact will much hurt Smokin' Eagles. A new barbecue team from Lewiston and a vendor from Lewiston already have signed up for Smokin' Eagles.
Gregory and Giordano both said they had hoped to be able to compete in the Lewiston event, or even provide advice and assistance as they did for the Old Falls Street Rib Fest in Niagara Falls last month. Gregory also helped set up Brockport's first barbecue festival this year.
They had approached the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce in Lewiston last fall to see if that group was interested in sponsoring Smokin' Eagles, but were turned away and sent to Lewiston government officials instead, Gregory said. Not wanting to deal with politicians again, they accepted Gateway's offer.
"We're not in Wheatfield any more, Toto," Gregory said happily.
They checked to see what other barbecues were scheduled nearby in August and set their dates. Originally, Art of Ribs, sponsored by the Lewiston/Niagara-on-the-Lake Rotary Club, was planned for July, he said.
Still, as far as Gregory and Giordano are concerned, the more barbecues there are in Western New York, the better.
"Competition barbecue is one of the fastest growing competition events in the U.S.," Giordano said, adding that locally, if the momentum that started with the Niagara Falls barbecue continues in Tonawanda next week, Smokin' Eagles is "going to have a really first-class event for the area."
For more information on this year's event, visit the Smokin' Eagle's Web site.