ON THE SCENE: Savory success – BBQ fest will return to show grounds

Wrestler Barracuda (Mike Gaddor) manhandles wrestler Hillbilly Billy (Billy Holland) after having smashed him with a garbage container. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The I Love BBQ and Music Festival returned after canceling last year’s event to a new date and location.

Shifting from the Olympic Speedskating Oval and the Fourth of July weekend, the festival opened at the North Elba Show Grounds on Labor Day weekend, from Friday, Sept. 3 to Sunday, Sept. 5. As so many similar events were canceled, the festival had the distinction of being the only Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event held in New York state this season.

The show grounds provided many benefits, including onsite parking and more space for the competing teams. More space benefited the festival’s auxiliary activities such as the music tent, an improved judging facility and the ability to sell beer, a product long desired by barbecue fans as beer is to barbecue what mint julips are to the Kentucky Derby.

“I think that the horse show grounds is an awesome location,” said Michael Durham, one of the barbecue managers. “It provides many benefits. We have a wider venue, which allows us to spread out more. Parking is onsite, and the grounds are large enough to allow us to expand the music tent. Down the road, we can have carnival rides, more teams, more vendors, and just spread out.”

The site’s more significant footprint helped organizers spread out vendor booths, contestant teams, people seated in the music tent, and the judging area to address COVID-19 safety concerns. For example, judges were seated three instead of six at a table.

Dave Smith, left, and Dave Rose of Boar-N-Q, pose during the I Love BBQ and Music Festival at the North Elba Show Grounds in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

An added feature was professional wrestling on Saturday and hosting the Olympic Car Show on Sunday. All these changes, coupled with returning the “buck-a-rib” contest, resulted in record attendance.

“On Saturday, we nearly sold out, not a bad thing,” said Durham. “We sold out of the buck-a-rib, also not a bad thing. The wrestling had a great audience. The amount of space allows us to have the car show join us on Sunday. People will drive by the cars and park in the back. Then they will walk by the barbecue teams, walk by the music tent and vendors, and then see the car show. People get to see everything that’s offered.”

Festival organizer Dmitry Feld had reasons for concern. Over a dozen Canadian teams and Canadian barbecue fans couldn’t attend because of the closed U.S.-Canada border. Another challenge is that the festival was going up against another held simultaneously in a Connecticut casino that paid out higher award purses.

Everything didn’t go perfectly; with less than half the number of competing teams, the number of ribs available for the popular buck-a-rib quickly sold out, resulting in many disappointed festival attendees. Holding the festival after public schools in other states opened resulted in no youth division and few youth volunteers, activities essential to the organizers. The festival is a vital fundraiser for the Shipman Youth Center in Lake Placid, an afterschool program for area youth.

“I think this is a better location,” said Julianna Smith. “You’ve got the mountains, easier parking, and you’re walking around on grass, not a hard pavement. I think this is the perfect venue; it’s where it should be.”

Linda and Jerry Mullane, barbecue competition managers, pose during the I Love BBQ and Music Festival at the North Elba Show Grounds in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Feld announced Monday that the festival will be held at the show grounds again next Labor Day weekend. The large attendance — more than 2,000 attendees, Feld said Wednesday — and voiced support by exhibitors, judges and attendees spoke volumes, and organizers listened.

Meanwhile, this year, the professional wrestlers attracted a large cheerful audience that loved the wrestlers’ and announcers’ banter, suggesting that Lake Placid change its name as wrestling and other events are anything but.

“It’s been 19 years since my brothers and I started wrestling each other in the yard by our house,” said Justin Joseph Gaddor, a founder of Performance Arts Connection, established with his brothers Matt and Mike. “We started when we were kids. We liked watching wrestling. We were big fans of Hulk Hogan and a lot of the cartoony characters. It motivated us to want to work out and become big enough to wrestle in the ring.”

The Gaddor brothers first attended a live professional wrestling match at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. Thus, coming back with their team is special for them. They wrestle for fun and fitness and stage events to help raise money for various charities like the Shipman Center. Based in Moriah, they train at the Mineville VFW.

They didn’t just stay in the ring. At times, they tumbled into the audience where the wrestler Barracuda (Mike Gaddor) smashed his opponent Hillbilly Billy (Billy Holland) with a large trash barrel. That was just in the second act with more popular outrageous acts to follow. The cheering audience was delighted. So, too, was Dr. Steve Reinheimer, a family physician recently relocated to town serving as one of the three volunteer EMTs.

Julianna Smith poses during the I Love BBQ and Music Festival at the North Elba Show Grounds in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“This is not something I expected when deciding to move to Lake Placid,” said Reinheimer. “It would appear that my skills may be needed, but so far, they seem to be surviving. It’s great being here because you meet the healthiest 80-year-olds I’ve ever seen anywhere, along with world-class athletes and ah wrestlers, and people with metabolic syndrome.”

No question that barbecue attracts people who love to eat, especially meat, which, if consumed in high quantities over time, can lead to an increased risk of Type 2 adult-onset diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But for meat lovers, barbecue cooked by the high-caliber professional teams that Lake Placid is known for is enticing.

One young first-time barbecue volunteer helping serve the prepared offerings created for the judging was blown away.

“I think the dishes entered by the competitors were excellent, probably the best barbecue I have ever had,” said competition volunteer Matthew Dellamore. “The flavors were excellent, crazy good. The way it’s cooked is insane. You go to a regular barbecue, fast food or whatever, and it’s not even close to what these teams put out.”

Dellamore plans to sign up to learn how to become an official judge, and if possible, apprentice to one of the teams so he can learn how to cook like them. According to professional chef Dave Rose of Boar-N-Q, who has been competing for 18 years, he’s got more wow moments ahead.

Lake Placid family physician Doctor Steve Reinheimer poses during the I Love BBQ and Music Festival at the North Elba Show Grounds in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“Barbecuing is challenging because the things you think will work don’t,” said Rose.

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)

Justin Joseph Gaddor, co-founder of Performance Arts Connection (professional wrestlers), right, with wrestler Nicholas Allen of Ticonderoga. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)