'BBQ & Barrels' returns today

“BBQ and Barrels” will return to downtown Owensboro starting today, Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11, for its second year.

The event, coined as “a celebration of our past, our present and our future (by) bringing together two of Owensboro’s greatest traditions” of barbecue and bourbon, debuted last year.

It stems from the popular International Bar-B-Q Festival that began in 1979 followed by different variations of the festival until 2022.

Dave Kirk, destination management director for the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Wednesday the now-annual event is “all starting to come together really well.”

In particular, Kirk highlighted the 2024 Baird Private Wealth Management Bourbon Experience that will take place at the Owensboro Convention Center, which will include “around 35 distilleries” and some “big names this year.”

“... Some of the new ones that are big (to the event) are New Riff (Distilling) out of northern Kentucky, you have Michter’s (Distillery) that’s another big addition, you’ve got Blue Run (Spirits) which is craft distillery that’s very, very high-end bourbon …,” Kirk said.

General admission ticket sales for the bourbon aspect are “going really well,” said Kirk, while its VIP tickets sold out “literally in 24 hours.”

Ticket holders for the bourbon component will also be able to enjoy barbecue from Ole South Bar-B-Q.

Additionally, Kirk said there is a companion pass available for purchase for $20 for those wishing not to partake in the bourbon aspect or for someone that plans to attend the event as a designated driver. A cash bar will also be available for those with a companion pass if wishing to purchase other alcoholic beverages.

“We wanted more ways for people that might … be curious about bourbon and want to know more,” he said. “We wanted to have an opportunity for them.”

Regarding the barbecue side, Kirk said this year will see “the most barbecue vendors we’ve ever had” with about 20 to 25 planned to be on-site.

The church teams have also grown to a total of five, compared to three last year, while craft vendors are “approaching 30” — nearly doubling those present in 2023.

Traditional happenings such as the Backyard Cook-Off, carnival rides, a 5K and more will also return.

Todd Johnson, co-event coordinator for the Backyard Cook-Off alongside Dustin Hamilton, Eric Ward and Kelly Ward, said 38 teams are registered to compete — a record year.

“We were almost pressed for space,” he said. “... It’s great.”

Johnson, who had been a participant in the cook-off for about eight to 10 years before spearheading it about a decade ago, finds this component of the overall event is integral to its continued success, especially with the recent changes it’s experienced in becoming “BBQ & Barrels.”

“I think that the Backyard Cook-Off, if we’d have lost that, it would have been harder to keep the barbecue end of it …,” he said. “... The Backyard Cook-Off kind of, I guess for lack of better words, kept the barbecue thing going along with some of the churches still doing a little bit, but not on as big of a scale of what they were.”

The payout for the cookoff is “around $3,500” total, Johnson said, along with first, second and third place cash prizes in beef, chicken and pork categories.

There is also a $1,500 cash prize up for grabs for the overall cook-off grand champion team, a first-place trophy, a traveling trophy and a waiver for the 2025 cookoff entry fee.

New this year to “BBQ & Barrels” includes the Kentucky Champions Motorcar Invitational, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the convention center parking lot.

“... Some of the other feedback we’ve got within the past couple years (is that) people love the car show with the Bar-B-Q Festival, and it’s been absent for a couple years,” Kirk said. “This year, we wanted to do it the right way. … This is an invite-only car show … (that features) some of the highest-rated cars in America.”

There will also be free live music on both days with Van Halen tribute group, Fan Halen, performing on Friday along with rock artist August Christopher starting at 6 p.m. and multi-platinum country music singer Chris Janson playing on Saturday with fellow country artist and Kentucky native Hannah Ellis as special guest beginning at 5:30 p.m. Both shows will take place on the front lawn of the convention center.

A variety of other local artists and bands will provide entertainment during the festival on the event stage and the Daviess County Courthouse lawn on West Second Street.

Kirk is looking forward to the event coming back and seeing it continue to grow.

“... When you come out of Covid and you’re trying to kind of reinvent things and breathe new life into it, you add a little bit each year … because you don’t want to grow too fast; you want to make sure things are done (correctly) …,” he said. “... I’d expect that (the event) will have the feel of more of the traditional (festival) that I think people have kind of been missing with the added car show, added craft vendors … and a concert weekend all rolled into one.”

Additionally, the City of Owensboro is hosting a “50/50 Raffle” as part of this year’s event. The winner of the raffle will receive half of the pot, while the other half will go toward planning for future festivals, said Shaelie Velez, the city’s communications and marketing manager, on May 3.

Online tickets can only be purchased by people physically in Kentucky, while raffle booths will be lined up and down the festival on both Friday and Saturday.

The winner will be announced at the Janson and Ellis show on Saturday.

“BBQ & Barrels” will take place from noon to 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

For more information about “BBQ & Barrels” and to purchase raffle tickets, visit bbqbarrels.com.