By Matt Wickstrom
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Bringing Lexingtonians together has always been at the the heart of Smiley Pete Publishing. The community publication launched in 1997 when Chris Eddie and Chuck Creacy, working at the time as delivery drivers at the Domino’s Pizza on Euclid Avenue in Chevy Chase, created and began hand delivering the Chevy Chaser Magazine to nearby residents.
As Smiley Pete has expanded over the last 22 years, now including Business Lexington, Southsider Magazine and tadoo.com under its umbrella, the grassroots approach at its foundation remains, particularly with the events it produces and promotes, ranging from Lexington Burger Week to Crave Lexington Food and Music Festival and Bluegrass BBQ Fest, taking place June 7 and 8 on the Courthouse Plaza downtown.
According to Smiley Pete director of events and promotions Theresa Stanley, the idea for a festival centered around barbecue first struck after examining sales data from prior years at Crave and noticing a trend of barbecue being one of the festival’s top selling items despite only having a couple of vendors on site throughout the weekend. From there Stanley says she sought to incorporate other attributes of Kentucky that make the region unique and a travel destination for many, looking to an A-team of Bs: Blues, bluegrass, bourbon and beer.
“We don’t have much barbecue or blues (in Kentucky), but what we do have is incredible,” said Stanley. “Blues artists such as Tee Dee Young are world renowned and barbecue continues to grow in popularity around the area with new businesses popping up like crazy in the last two or three years.”
“That blossoming barbecue scene will be well represented at this weekend at the Bluegrass BBQ Fest’s third annual gathering, featuring 12 pitmasters from the region along with 17 vendors and food personalities that include staples such as Red State BBQ, City Barbecue and J. Render’s along with worldly flavors from Fida’s Caribbean Cafe and Thai-inspired barbecue from Jasmine Rice.”
“Like there’s a dumpling for every culture, there’s a style of barbecue for every culture,” said Stanley.
Additionally, a backyard pitmaster competition featuring amateur pitmasters will take place during the festival on June 8. The event will feature two categories, low & slow and grilled steak, with 10 contestants participating in each using Big Green Egg charcoal barbecue cookers provided by Lexington Billiards and Spas. The competition will be hosted by Louisville’s Chris Sussman, known to many as “The BBQ Buddha,” with the winner of each category taking home their own Big Green Egg.
“A little bit Memphis, a little bit Carolina and a little bit Kansas City, Kentucky barbecue is a melting pot of the best of barbecue, much like the city of Lexington,” said Stanley.
Barbecue won’t be the only food on the menu though. No picnic is complete without fried chicken, so Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken will be on site serving up their Memphis-inspired goods. Other food vendors at the event include Crank & Boom, Sav’s Chill and Kettle Corn.
The event also features free live music, featuring three generations of regional musicians capped off by blues legend Tee Dee Young on Saturday night. Other performers include high-flying neo soul collective Joslyn & The Sweet Compression fresh off releasing their debut full-length album in May; southern jam rockers Magnolia Boulevard, who recently came to terms on a management deal in addition to receiving an endorsement in 2018 from PRS Guitars; Short & Company, a Jackson-based blues trio that has previously bested hundreds of bands to make it to the semi-finals of the International Blues Challenge; Cincinnati-based front porch roots outfit Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle; and 10-year-old Phoebe White, who will perform on the biggest stage of her young career to date with guitar teacher David McLean.
If you go: Bluegrass BBQ Fest
When: 5-11 p.m. on June 7, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on June 8
Where: Courthouse Plaza, 120 N Limestone
Tickets: Free admission. Food and drink available for purchase.