Barbecue festival attendance down about 30 percent

Published 3:17 pm Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The national economy&squo;s woes apparently extend even to barbecue.

Organizers of the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival say they are planning major changes in next year&squo;s festival budget after seeing a dramatic decrease in attendance at this year&squo;s festival, which was held June 13 and 14 at Harmon Field in Tryon.

Gatekeepers at the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival this year counted a total of 10,594 paid adult admissions, down by 4,160 from a year earlier. Specially priced senior adult admissions on Friday were 454, down by 222 from the 2007 festival.

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Total attendance at the festival, including children and volunteers using passes, was 12,863 this year, down 4,377 from 2007.

&dquo;It&squo;s the economy,&dquo; said 2008 festival chairman Dale Musselwhite.

Musselwhite cited several area festivals which also experienced down years and said the vendors at the barbecue, many of whom work festivals across the southeast, said their experiences at other festivals this year confirmed the trend.

&dquo;For many people a tank of gas is equal to most of a paycheck,&dquo; he said, &dquo;and folks have to drive to get here. There was also an art show in Asheville the same weekend.&dquo;

Musselwhite said the advertising and public relations effort for the festival this year was outstanding, with Charlotte and Greenville radio stations doing extensive promotions. He also downplayed concerns that the Blue Ridge Barbecue&squo;s increase to an $8 admission price was the cause.

&dquo;We had an excellent festival,&dquo; Musselwhite said, &dquo;It ran real smooth. Carl (Wharton) ran the cookers excellent, and all our volunteers really stepped up.&dquo;

The festival this year had 80 competition barbecue cookers, only one fewer than last year, and took in $40,000 in sponsorships.

Nonetheless, Musselwhite said the festival committee is already talking about making extensive cost-saving and refreshing changes in the festival for next year in order to slim down the budget and make the festival new and exciting again, even to old hands.

With each attendee spending an average of $20 at the festival, a loss of 4,377 attendees results in a drop of approximately $87,540 in gross revenues to the festival.

Musselwhite said the 2007 festival, which had the higher attendance, still saw a profit of only $3,000.

The financial report for the 2008 festival is not yet available, but Musselwhite said, &dquo;Things have to change. We have to cut. We have already started talking about cutting the budget drastically.&dquo;