ON THE SCENE: 17 years and counting at the BBQ fest
The I Love BBQ and Music Festival was launched in 2006 as a fundraiser for the Shipman Youth Center in Lake Placid and has become a crucial income stream for this youth program that has touched the lives of many. This year, it was held from Sept. 1 to 3.
Originally held on the Olympic Speedskating Oval over the Fourth of July holiday, the festival was moved to the North Elba Show Grounds in part to enable the state Olympic Regional Development Authority to upgrade the oval for the FISU Games, but also for more parking and the ability to sell beer and wine, prohibited on school property at the oval.
In addition, festival organizer Dmitry Feld shifted the event to Labor Day weekend in hopes of access to more teams, as more barbecue events were being held on the Fourth, resulting in more competition in securing teams. Not anticipated was the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation in 2020 with a drive-in movie festival held in its stead.
As is true for a wide range of events nationwide, audience numbers are down as many people continue to avoid large gatherings. In addition, inflation made competing in barbecue festivals more expensive for the teams as their travel, fuel for the smokers and cost of meats all increased. Thus, teams now participate in far fewer festivals than they once did.
Not everyone was pleased with the Show Grounds location. Michael Young attended every year and felt it should return to the oval.
“I’ve lived out West. I am familiar with Kansas City-style barbecue. That’s what interested me in attending,” Young said. “But I thought the location at the Olympic Center, that area, and how it was organized, was a great venue. It was very attractive to me. Here they have the parking and the beer, which is a benefit. I am sorry that COVID trampled things. People used to come out more for events before COVID, but the barbecue is still excellent. I am glad that the turnout is large today. Hopefully, even more people and more teams will come next year.”
Feld added events such as professional wrestling and BMX stunt bike performances and continued showcasing local musicians to give people more reasons to attend. This year, 18 teams participated, down from the 40-plus numbers pre-pandemic, but still an excellent showing and the quality of their barbecue remained high. The pity is that a few teams that had planned to be a part of the People’s Choice Awards couldn’t make it last minute, which resulted in long lines for the teams competing, and they all ran out of pulled pork on Friday and ribs on Saturday a bit earlier than expected.
The many volunteers out in force are critical to making the festival an ongoing success. Nancy Meyers, who I caught up with as she tallied the People’s Choice votes for best ribs, has been in charge of almost every aspect.
“I have been volunteering for 18 years,” she said. “I organize Top Chef with Dmitry’s help, of course; everything comes from Dmitry. I volunteered because Dmitry said, ‘Nancy, you are going to help with the barbecue festival,’ and I said, ‘Yes, Dmitry.’ You understand what I’m saying; he’s very persuasive, but really, to support the kids. Nothing’s more important.”
“Dmitry asks, and you have to go,” said Amel Dunis.
“Helping the Shipman Center is a very, very important cause in Lake Placid,” said Meyers. “All the locals want to help and do what they can. The festival also helps bring in the tourists, and this year, help us all enjoy a beautiful weekend of food and fun. Dmitry did a sun dance, and it worked.”
One of the favorite local musicians playing was New York Ski Educational Foundation ski coach extraordinaire Larry Stone, an equally talented and passionate musician, this time backed up by various excellent musicians. Stone has been playing at the festival since the first year and is now the only person who has played at every one since the beginning.
“I play at the barbecue because it helps out a good cause and to help Dmitry and Gordy, who started it,” said Stone, headlining the musical lineup on Friday night. “Playing music is what I do; I have no choice. When I graduated from college in 1966, someone called me from Cape Cod, and I went out there and joined a band in Provincetown, where we played at the Surf Club for 133 nights in a row. Taught school for a little while, then went back to ski jumping and rock ‘n’ roll, which is a lot of fun and a great change of pace from coaching.”
Critical are the many people who came, and at 1 p.m. Saturday, the Buck-a-Rib People’s Choice tasting was packed.
“I am here for the ribs and the local beer,” said Steven Korha, in line for Steve’s Prime Barbecue ribs as he finished Risk It for the Brisket ribs. “I am glad the event is being held at the horse show grounds so we can have local beer with the barbecue. I am here because it’s a beautiful day, the ribs are fantastic, the bouncy houses are great for the kids. We come down every year for this, and we have a great time.”
“The barbecue is good, very good,” said Kevin Ausborn in line for Cyclone BBQ ribs. “I don’t have a favorite yet; I’m on my third set of ribs, and they have been all good. At the moment, Live Q or Die’s my favorite.”
Cyclone BBQ of Lavaltrie, Quebec, returned serving one of the tenderest ribs I’ve ever eaten, though a bit sweet. Jose’e Gaboriault said that she and her partner Patrick Hayeur took up competing in barbecue festivals in 2018 as something they could do as a couple and their kids in the junior competitions. learned how to cook by attending festivals and learning what they liked, as well as YouTube videos.
“Our kids have entered the pro market, so it’s now back to us as a couple,” said Gaboriault.
“We went through 55 racks of ribs today, and we could have gone through another 55,” said Debora Lancor of Steve’s Prime Barbecue, ultimate winners for both People’s Choice Awards, ribs and pulled pork.
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)