Thirty-two bluegrass bands performing on three stages, 76 barbecuers competing for a state title, food concessions and a beer garden add up to a weekend of music, the aroma of wafting grilled meat and Pickin’ in the Panhandle.
Officially called Pickin’ in the Panhandle, West Virginia BBQ & Blue Grass Festival, the event began Friday at the Lazy A Campground. Organizers predict crowds of 8,000 to 10,000 patrons through Sunday.
Large and small RVs and tents began to fill the fields that make up the large campground. Back Creek Valley Road, the main road leading to the campground grew busier with traffic as the afternoon wore on.
Andrea Ball, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which sponsors the annual festival, said it is not a fundraiser.
“We use it as a tourism incentive to draw people into the county,” she said.
The bureau’s three full-time and three part-time employees organize the festival and line up the 75 to 100 volunteers who really make it work.
Headlining the 32 bands are such bluegrass greats as Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Colebrook Road, Ira Dean, Davisson Brothers Band, Kentucky Headhunters and Shane Thomas.
Local bands like Sleepy Creek, Speakeasy Boys and Back Creek Valley Boys also have turns on the stage.
The music began Friday at 3 p.m. with Half Bad Bluegrass Band on the main stage.
The mountaineer stage hosts West Virginia bands and the pickin’ porch is for acoustic musicians and their fans.
Barbecue grills, large and small, wood- or charcoal-fired only allowed, sat cool and waiting Friday afternoon as their owners began to set up shop.
The field includes 42 professional teams in the Kansas City BBQ Society-sanctioned competition plus 34 backyard grilling teams.
The winners will share $3,000 of the $10,000 the CVB set aside for all contest winners.
The wining professional team will be eligible for the national competition at the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo., in October.
“We’ve grown several teams who competed on the national level,” Ball said.
Bone to Bark BBQ, a rookie husband and wife team from Hagerstown, was setting up in the professional line Friday.
It’s the third professional competition this summer for Todd and Donna Spickler. The other two were in Gettysburg, Pa., and Cumberland, Md.,
“We’ve never won any money. We don’t place high enough to recoup our costs,” Todd Spickler said.
So why do they do it?
“Because we’re learning something and it’s fun,” Donna Spickler said.
Contest rules dictate that each team roast a pork butt, brisket, chicken thighs and pork ribs.
“We’ll fire up the grill around 11 p.m. tonight,” Todd Spickler said Friday. “When it reaches a temperature of 250 degrees to 275 degrees, I’ll put in the pork butts and brisket.”
By noon today, each team has to be ready to present six samples of chicken thighs, brisket, pork and ribs to the 60 KCBS-certified judges who will determine the winners. Judges volunteer their time.
“I cook two pork butts in case one doesn’t come out right, but I only do one brisket and hope it comes out right because they cost around $45,” Todd Spickler said.