Braggin’ Rights

Big BBQ Bash cooking up the excitement for third year

There will be plenty of bands playing at the Big BBQ Bash on May 9, in Springbrook Corporate Center, but Randy Massey said the most entertaining part of the event wouldn’t involve music or the performers on stage.

Massey, chair of the Big BBQ organizing committee, said there would be bands playing on Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, and the music adds a lot to the event. Overall, however, it’s all about community.

“We have lots of people who say the entertainment is seeing everyone in the community and catching up with friends. We just don’t do enough of that, and this is a good time to come out and hang around with people you haven’t seen and talked to in awhile,” Massey said. “That is the entertainment we’re all about. It’s about coming out and seeing relatives and friends and people.”

The Big BBQ Bash was started in 2007 as a Leadership Blount Class of 2007 project. This year the primary beneficiary of the event is the Blount County Community Campus Initiative through the Helen Ross McNabb Center and New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center. The Community Campus Initiative is a joint partnership between Blount County government, the Helen Ross McNabb Center, the Blount County Children Advocacy Center in cooperation with the Blount County Children’s Home to develop a campus where non-profits who serve families can come together in one area.

Melissa Copelan, co-chair for the event, said since the class started the bash in 2007, they have donated more than $50,000 to a variety of local charities, including New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center, Helen Ross McNabb Foundation and a host of other organizations. Although the proceeds from the entry fees, vendor fees and sponsorships go to Helen Ross McNabb and New Hope, winning teams are required to donate half their winnings to their designated charities, plus teams can sell their food to benefit charities as well. The result is a host of charities benefiting from one event.

“This year for our 2009 event we will be awarding a total of $12,000 in prize money to cooks who can ‘Smoke up or shut up.’ Half of that money the cooks can choose to keep and the other half they must donate to the charity they designate on their entry forms,” Copelan said.

Jerry Vagnier, Leadership Blount Class of 2007 member and executive director of Helen Ross McNabb Foundation, said in the first year of the event, the New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center received nearly $18,000. “Last year Helen Ross McNabb was the primary beneficiary and received right at $10,000. I know of nearly $30,000 allocated to those two agencies,” he said.

Prize money the first year totaled more than $15,000 with an increase the second to just over $21,000.

Massey said organizers try to make sure it is Blount County charities that are benefiting from the bash.

Copelan said that when the class started planning the first event they were told not to expect much of a response and that maybe nine or 10 teams would sign up. “We ended up our first year having over 30 teams and our second year was really no different. We had over 30 teams competing,” she said. “We estimate no change in interest, and we’re expecting well over 30 teams this year.”

The teams will converge on the Springbrook Corporate Center property near the Alcoa Municipal Building and begin cooking on Friday, May 8. The event will be open to the public on Saturday, May 9, beginning at 8 a.m. “We will have live entertainment beginning at 1 p.m. with lots of great local and regional bands like Soul Finger and the Retroholics,” Copeland said.

The Mayoral Regatta, a canoe race on the pond at Springbrook Corporate Center, will continue this year. “It’s an offbeat extra event we resurrected where we ask local elected officials and community and business leaders to have fun. It’s no-holds-barred race to paddle to the finish line,” she said. “It’s a favorite and will definitely continue this year.”

Massey said the regatta is just a blood feud and he facetiously said organizers would be looking for “weapons” the participants might use to spray or distract competitors.

“There will be no weapons allowed on the high sea,” Massey said with a laugh. Participants better watch out for the organizers, however. “We’re trying to figure out a way to make a wave and haven’t quite come up with that yet,” he said. “We think adding 4-foot waves would add some excitement.”

Copelan talked about the different categories in the barbecue competition, which will be judged by individuals recruited from the community.

“We’ve got Chicken, Pulled Pork and Ribs and the Anything But category. Anything But is anything but the other three categories, as long as you cook it on grill,” she said. The Anything But category winner receives a trophy but no prize money.

One of the new features of this year’s event is a new category. “We’ve got prize money we’re awarding for the Grand Champion. Not only are we awarding money for first, second and third in each category except Anything but, we will also have Grand Champion money,” Copeland said. “The Grand Champion is a total of points in all categories entered and is based on that scoring.”

Massey said he wants everyone to know no public money is going into this event. “It’s all privately raised and funded,” he said.

The bash chair said the organizing committee understands that economic times are rough. “When times are rough, there is no better time to get friends and family around and have a barbecue. That’s why we have this thing,” he said. “We are fortunate enough we raise money for some local charities and that’s just all the better.”

Massey said the committee members each hope everyone comes out and has a fun time at the bash on May 9.

“Talk about a great Saturday, there’s no admission charge. It doesn’t cost anything except what you buy to eat. For people who don’t like barbecue, there will be other food vendors. We just want you to hangout with us and have a good time,” Massey said. “Where else can you get music, entertainment, barbecue and see all your friends and family. The only other place you get this much fellowship is going to church on Sunday.”

Massey said organizers went to corporate sponsors expecting to be met with a lot of resistance because of the slow economy. “This year so far we’ve met no resistance. They all think this is such good community involvement, and they’re helping charities,” he said. “They’ve all signed up and we’ve picked up new sponsors. We’re really excited about this year being a good turnout.”

New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center executive director Trudy Hughes praised the efforts of the Big BBQ Bash committee and all the volunteers who have helped make it what it is.

“We love the Bash. We’ve been fortunate to be involved with this Leadership Blount class since the first year, and it’s a tremendous amount of fun to volunteer,” she said. “Even if you’re there as a volunteer, you’re having fun. It’s a good example of how this community comes together to enjoy one another and at the same raise much needed resources.”

Leadership Blount executive director Cathy Cate the class of 2007 has done a wonderful job of keeping the event alive. “For this to have actually succeeded past their first year is kind of unusual,” Cate said. “Any of the groups they choose to benefit are going to get a lot of good publicity and good funding out of that. It’s becoming an event the entire community looks forward to. They do a great job pulling it together and keeping the excitement going.”

Vagnier was thankful for all the Bash has done for his organization. “Anytime you get community leaders interested in your cause, it’s always a good thing. Blount County has so many causes they could be a part of, so we’re always honored they include us,” he said. “What it means to us is it gives us the ability to put together a community campus. Our building is the first one that’s going to be constructed so we’re tickled to have their support going into the project.”

Massey encouraged the public to come enjoy the event. “You’ve got to eat anyway. Come out and eat and help the community,” he said. “The food is fabulous.”

There will be a new layout at Springbrook for the teams, bands and vendors, allowing for 20 vendors with easy access for each vendor to the crowds in addition to the team space. Last year an estimated 7,500 people attended the event.

Entry forms for either vendors or teams are due on April 10. For more on the BBQ Bash, visit the website or call Copelan at 865-206-7645.

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