On July 24, things will be heating up in Morgan City, Louisiana, with the kickoff of the 4th annual Bayou BBQ Bash. According to Sam Russo, branch manager at the Springleaf* branch in Morgan City, this two-day festival started as a "fun little event," giving festivalgoers an opportunity to watch or participate in BBQ competitions, sample some BBQ, and enjoy a craft show and other fun activities.
Russo, who represented Springleaf at last year's BBQ Bash, explains that this "little event" is not so little anymore. In spite of rain during the competition, there were approximately 4,000 people in attendance, Russo estimates. This year, between 5,000 and 8,000 people are expected to attend.
These figures are nothing to sneeze at, especially since the population of Morgan City is about 12,000, or about 5,000 households. Russo attributes the growing popularity of the festival to word of mouth, as people attend and experience an event that, for Louisiana, is slightly unusual.
While catfish, crawfish, and seafood festivals are plentiful in Louisiana, BBQ festivals are much less common, according to Russo. The uniqueness of this event has begun to attract people from around the state.
The vendors at the event, however, are all from Morgan City or St. Mary's Parish, where Morgan City is located. A major goal of the event, which is put on by the St. Mary's Parish Chamber of Commerce, is to promote community businesses and maintain the festival's "local flair."
Inspired by last year's BBQ Bash, Russo has become involved in the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Springleaf, helping with the planning of this year's event. Last year's event "was so nice - it made me want to be involved," he says.
This year, Russo will be representing Springleaf again, along with a few other Springleaf team members from his branch and other nearby branches.
For the second year in a row, Springleaf will be helping to sponsor a team in the main barbecue competition, the centerpiece of the Bayou BBQ Bash. This event, an official competition of the Barbecue Competitors Alliance, is open to competitive teams and corporate teams. Springleaf is sponsoring Brian Boudreaux, who has previously competed in a national burger-grilling competition, as well as other BBQ competitions. There is also a kids barbecue competition.
People participating in these competitions take BBQ seriously. "It's amazing how competitive people get with food," Russo remarks, recalling the intensity of last year's competitors, who came armed with cooking secrets and a desire to win.
Despite their determined mindset, the participants remained "friendly, and wanted a fair competition," says Russo. They were happy to help out when others needed a hand.
Some of the competitors were happy to share a few of their methods with festivalgoers. On Friday night, visitors can meet the cooks before Saturday's competition and, according to Russo, learn some of the things that go into their BBQ. They may share what kind of wood they use when barbecuing - hickory wood, mesquite, or pecan, for instance.
“People are intrigued," he says. "It's not that expensive to get into the festival, and it's a great opportunity to learn about BBQ," he adds.
While the brisket, baby back ribs, and chicken prepared for the competition aren't available for festivalgoers to sample, there is plenty of good BBQ available, as well as family activities, crafts, and live music.
When asked what he's most looking forward to, Russo says he's looking forward to getting out there and meeting people, telling people more about Springleaf, and "enjoying time with the good people of Morgan City."
For more details about the event, visit the official Bayou BBQ Bash page.
*Please note that Springleaf has changed its name to OneMain.