30,000 attended BBQ & Barrels

An estimated 30,000 fans from several states were in Owensboro on Friday and Saturday for the city’s second annual BBQ & Barrels festival, which celebrates both bourbon and barbecue.

The event was formerly known as the International Bar-B-Q Festival from 1979 to 2022.

Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, “This year saw a surge in attendance, with record numbers of church teams (five) and food vendors, the highest-attended concert ever, all contributing to the excitement in the air.”

He said, “This year we tested the waters and, in collaboration with Jeff Stumb from the Great Race, we added an invite-only national car experience. One highlight was a car valued at $2 million. This first year’s car show was a success and got the momentum rolling, with next year looking to double the number of participants.”

The $2 million car was a 1931 Cord Speedster, the only one ever made.

The weather was ideal with mild temperatures and no rain, officials said.

The Owensboro Convention Center offered a free concert by country singer Chris Janson on its front lawn in celebration of its 10th anniversary.

Dave Kirk, the CVB’s destination management director, said it was the largest crowd he’s ever seen at a downtown concert.

“There wasn’t room for another person down there,” he said.

Highlight was bourbonCalitri said, “The true highlight was the bourbon component, which exceeded all expectations, rapidly establishing itself as one of the nation’s premier bourbon events.”

He said, “Western Kentucky Distillery chose this platform to unveil their highly anticipated seven-year-old product and Green River Distilling released its ‘BBQ and Barrels 2024’ bourbon. Many distilleries leveraged the event’s momentum to perfection.”

Kirk said, “We had 36 or 37 distilleries and there were bigger names this year.”

He said Andrea Wilson, COO and master of maturation at Michter’s in Louisville, even poured drinks to get to meet the crowd.

She’s a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

Kirk said VIP tickets sold out in 24 hours to 667 people, up from 494 last year.

This year, people could tour the displays without drinking for $20.

“We have room to expand next year,” Kirk said, “but we’ll have to use more of the convention center.”

He said Ole South barbecue was added to the lineup this year, so people drinking would have food too.

Kirk said Green River Distilling’s bourbon dinner on Friday night sold out with about 100 tickets.

The exclusive dinner and tasting at Lure Seafood & Grille also sold out — with tickets at $350.

“Word is getting out about this,” Calitri said. “It’s the best value for bourbon anywhere.”

Kirk said pretzel and water stations were added this year for those sampling bourbons.

Calitri said, “We saw firsthand our dedicated staff, along with their supportive spouses, were fully committed to ensuring a seamless experience for guests. They consistently went above and beyond, demonstrating unparalleled hustle and commitment to our community. Their collective effort in welcoming guests, distributing Glencairn whiskey glasses and assisting customers was key to the event’s success.”

He said that many downtown businesses reported strong crowds, including the VFW, Brasher’s and Ten O Six.

“Brew Bridge and Goodwood witnessed unprecedented foot traffic, with both reporting a complete sell-out of their craft beer inventory,” Calitri said.

Next year, he said, will be even bigger.