Maryland State BBQ Bash visitors Curtis Miller, Carrie Rye and Katie Stephens each held oversized pit sandwiches as they stood among the throngs of people filling the parking lot at the Mary E. W. Risteau District Court and Multi-Service Center in downtown Bel Air Saturday evening.
The trio chowed down on their sandwiches, overflowing with barbecued meats, as the sun set on the second and final night of the 2019 BBQ Bash and the crowd waited for country singer Stephanie Quayle and her band, the headliners capping off a day of live music, to take the stage.
People filled the parking lot of the Risteau building at South Bond and Thomas Street, where there were long lines for barbecue and drink vendors, or they could sit and eat at tables in the adjacent H. Wayne Norman Jr. Memorial Plaza, named for the Bel Air attorney and state senator who died suddenly in March of 2018.
“[The Bash is] one of my favorite events, to be honest,” said Miller, who lives in Lutherville and lived in Harford County for about five years before moving to Baltimore County to be closer to his job in Towson.
“I just love being around other people, live music, delicious food — of course, that’s the best part,” he said.
Rye, a resident of Perry Hall, said she also enjoys the social aspect of the bash.
“Good beer, good people, what more can you ask [for] on a summer day?” she said.
Stephens, an Abingdon resident, praised the atmosphere and the music of the festival, saying she was “enjoying the end of summer.”
Miller recalled growing up in South Dakota and attending a local rib festival similar to Bel Air’s BBQ Bash, with food, vendors and live music. He described such events as “a good community builder.”
“It’s cool that [residents] have a place to get to know each other, spend time together,” he said.
The Bel Air Downtown Alliance puts on the BBQ Bash, a major fundraiser for the nonprofit, in partnership with the Town of Bel Air, Harford County and multiple local businesses.
“Everyone seems to be having a wonderful time, and I’m enjoying it, personally, with family and friends,” said Michael Krantz, director of administration and human resources for the town.
Bel Air Police officers and Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputies, as well as local fire and EMS personnel, were out and about on the festival grounds, as they have been in years past, along with multiple volunteers working to assist people and support festival operations. This year, visitors went through extra security when coming in from Bond Street, as a volunteer passed a metal-detecting wand over them.
“We just wanted to ramp up the security a little bit, just so everybody’s safe and still having a good time,” Christopher Pineda, the new director of the Downtown Alliance, said.
The United States has been rocked by several deadly mass shootings in and around public venues this summer, including at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California. Three people were killed in that shooting, which happened July 28.
“We always just want to be prepared, and all the stakeholders that play a part in [the BBQ Bash] just make it so outstanding,” Pineda said.
He praised the public safety agencies, town public works staff, businesses that support the festival, Downtown Alliance board members and multiple volunteers for their assistance.
“They’ve all been working really hard to make this so great,” Pineda said.
Donna Dickey, the alliance board chair, added that “it’s a family atmosphere this weekend,” as many parents and their young children could be seen enjoying the bash.
Cooking and playing for the people
Pineda chatted briefly with Derrick Wood, co-owner of festival vendor Dyvine BBQ in Motion of Dumfries, Virginia. Wood, who is the head chef, owns the business with his wife, Monique. Both have served in the military — Derrick in the Marine Corps and Monique in the Army Reserve — and Derrick Wood is the mayor of the Town of Dumfries.
Wood worked a grill laden with chicken and ribs, anda second, closed, grill with more racks of ribs. He pulled out one rack of ribs, dripping with juices.
“It doesn’t get any juicier than that,” he said, proudly holding the rack with his tongs.
Dyvine BBQ in Motion has been a vendor at the BBQ Bash for at least five years, according to Wood, who said he thinks “Bel Air has some of the greatest people who love barbecue and country music, and beer.”
“When you cook [barbecue] you don’t cook for yourself, you cook for the people, so you’ve got people that appreciate good barbecue [in Bel Air],” Wood said.
Quayle, a country music singer and songwriter, and her band took the main stage around 8 p.m. Saturday. The Montana native played a mix of her own singles and cover tunes, and urged the crowd to “make this the biggest honky-tonk in Maryland tonight!”
Quayle performed her single “I’ve Got Your Six” and paid tribute to members of the military, expressing her gratitude for their sacrifices “so that we get to do things like this and know that we’re safe.”
The area behind the courthouse building, along Hays Street, was set aside for multiple vendors to display their wares and services. Crabby Axe Throwing, which recently opened in a suite in the former Kunkel Service Co. auto service store at 331 Baltimore Pike in Bel Air, was one of those vendors.
Paul Miller and his son, Zach, operated the space, in which BBQ Bash patrons could sign a waiver and then try their hand at throwing a hatchet at a wooden target. Miller’s former wife, Tricia, owns the business, but she was not present for the festival.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks, but it was fun and it was cool hitting the target,” thrower Emma Laseta, of Bel Air, said.
Laseta also said she was enjoying her time at the bash, noting that “the music is good and the food’s really yummy.”
LaBon French, an artist who lives in the Dallas, Texas area and grew up on a dairy farm in northern Harford County, checked out the axe throwing with his grand-niece, Jaylyn Irving, 12, of Alton, Virginia.
“I did not have a bad barbecue here,” said French. “I was actually really impressed.”
French was in town to visit family. He graduated from North Harford High School in Pylesville in the early 1980s and said he thinks downtown Bel Air is “significantly better” than when he was growing up. He praised the varied shops and restaurants that are downtown now as well as the efforts of town leaders to bring in more “mom and pop” independent businesses.
French said he felt safe staying at his hotel in downtown Baltimore, despite President Donald Trump’s recent tweets describing Charm City and the surrounding area represented in Congress by Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings as “the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States” and a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess."
French, who described the Baltimoreans he met as “kind and jovial,” said he felt safe at the BBQ Bash in Bel Air, too, with the many police officers around.
“I just think we need to be more cautious of our surroundings and be more respectful of other people,” he said. “You get more with honey than you do with vinegar.”