The 16th annual Maryland State BBQ Bash, which typically draws tens of thousands of people to downtown Bel Air, returns this Friday and Saturday with an important change.
Craig Ward, who founded the bash in 2002 and has led the event for the past 16 years, is not chairing the overall event this year; however, he will still serve as the head of the professional cooks’ competition and will mentor to the Bel Air Downtown Alliance leaders overseeing the bash, which has become a summer mainstay in Harford County and the surrounding areas.
Ward, who also stepped down as president of the alliance’s board in late 2017, said Tuesday he has been working in recent years on “getting the next generation to run” the bash.
“It’s time for younger people to start taking the lead,” he said.
The bash will be in the Mary E. Risteau State Office Building parking lot at South Bond and Thomas streets. Visitors can check out live music, food and craft vendors, children’s activities and barbecue cooking competitions for amateur and professional cooks from throughout the U.S.
The event runs from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.
More information is available online at belairmaryland.org/md-bbq-bash or on the MD State BBQ Bash pages on Facebook and Twitter.
The bash is “the largest fundraising effort” for the Downtown Alliance, with all proceeds going to the nonprofit organization’s mission to “mobilize stakeholders to invest in Bel Air’s neighborhoods, economy and quality of life,” according its mission statement.
Donna Dickey, who succeeded Ward as the Downtown Alliance president and took office in January, is chairing the bash. Organizers recently met with their partners in putting on the event, such as the Town of Bel Air, the town police department and the Bel Air Department of Public Works.
“Things are going very well, and as long as the weather is better than it has been over the past few weeks, things should be fantastic,” Ward said.
Roll Out the Barrel, a ticketed “premium bourbon and cigar event,” will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the bash. Tickets are $75 per person and can be purchased through the bash website.
Attendees get a bourbon tasting coordinated by Bel Air Liquors, a bourbon-infused cigar from American Oak Barrel, dinner catered by One Eleven Main, craft beer from Independent Brewing Co., plus a Roll Out the Barrel souvenir glass. The whole event is sponsored by Spartan Surfaces in partnership with the Katzen Eye Group, according to the bash website.
The event was nearly sold out as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Dickey.
Admission is free to the overall bash, with its cooking competitions, children’s activities and live music. People can purchase from food and craft vendors, and the number of both has been expanded this year.
“We’re able to bring all the music and entertainment and people can come in and enjoy, and it doesn’t cost them a dime unless they want to eat and drink,” Dickey said.
The amateur competition, the Tailgate Challenge with 50 cooks, is Friday. Forty cooks are participating in the professional Kansas City Barbecue Society competition, which happens Saturday, according to Dickey.
Artist Ryan “ARCY” Christenson, who is known nationally and internationally for his street art and murals, will make his first visit to the BBQ Bash in Bel Air this year.
He will be creating murals near the main stage Friday and Saturday, according to Dickey.
“He is flying in from London to specifically do our murals,” she said.
The Friday music lineup includes The Grinders from 5 to 7 p.m., and Phillip Michael Parsons from 8 to 10 p.m. The Saturday acts include Boot N Rally from 2 to 4 p.m., Walk Ins Welcome from 5 to 7 p.m and headliner Sundance Head from 8 to 10 p.m., according to the bash website.
Jason “Sundance” Head, who bills himself as a “soul country” singer, was named the winner of NBC’s “The Voice” singing competition in 2016.
Dickey credited the bash’s ongoing partnership with the Havre de Grace-based country music station WXCY-FM for bringing national music acts.
“It brings people in to see what Bel Air has to offer, [people] that normally wouldn’t come from out of the state or out of the county,” she said.
Dickey said organizers have been asked why the bash remains at Bond and Thomas and has not been moved to a larger location in Harford County.
“The whole reason we do it in Bel Air is because we want to bring people into our great town and see what we have to offer,” she said, noting the bash helps bring people to downtown Bel Air shops and restaurants.
Dickey, 55, grew up in Bel Air. She has been a Downtown Alliance board member for about three years and was a volunteer for about seven years before joining the board.
“It’s my town,” she said. “I love it — I think we have such great things to offer; I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Dickey also gave credit to alliance volunteers and staff — Executive Director Christine McPherson, marketing communications associate Amber Pinder and Jenny Falcone, project coordinator — for helping to put on the bash.
“None of this would be possible without our amazing alliance staff and the multitude of volunteers,” she said.