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Racing to save Blue Ridge BBQ Festival

If residents and business owners in the community want to see the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival continue theyre going to have to show it with their checkbooks.
The Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce is seeking $1,000 pledges from at least 75 people in the community by next Wednesday in order to keep the festival alive this year.
Already, 20 people, including many who have been heavily involved in putting on the festival each year, have stepped forward and pledged funds. However, chamber president Andy Millard, who is one of those 20 people, says at least 55 others will have to do the same soon.
“This will be a good way to measure the support (for the festival) in the community,” says Millard. “If we dont have (75 pledges) by next Wednesday, then well know.”
A total of $75,000 in pledges would sufficiently reduce the chambers risk in the event of heavy rain at this years festival, says Millard. The checks would only be cashed by the chamber if it suffers losses from the event due to rainy weather, and only in proportion to the losses.
To further minimize the chambers exposure, the festival would be scaled back this year to a total cost of about $200,000, instead of the $290,000 or so spent in recent years. The festival could start on Friday afternoon rather than Friday morning, and the chamber would take numerous other steps to reduce costs, says Millard.
“We are willing to do (the festival) again, but were not willing to have all the risk with the chamber,” says Millard. “If nothing else, this episode has opened up an important dialogue in the community about the importance of the festival.
“Weve heard a lot of loud protests from people who want to see it continue, so if thats the case we need them to step up and make it happen.”
The chamber also is asking people to step forward and shoulder some of the workload of the festival. Chamber officials say the barbecue festival has been a second full-time, but unpaid job for a core group of volunteers who have been waiting for relief for years. The chamber adds that administering the festival takes up most of the time of one chamber employee and considerable time for the chamber director. The chamber says their time could be better spent on activities that directly support chamber members and fundraising events that have a better return than the barbecue festival.
“If people can step up and take a working role, there are a lot of jobs with the festival sitting vacant right now,” says Millard. “We hope people who have expressed displeasure at losing the festival are willing to serve as perhaps a lieutenant and transition to some of the higher jobs with the festival in the next year or two.
“We hope some of the people who have benefited from the festival will be willing to share in the risk.”
If the chamber gets the volunteer help and the pledges its seeking, Millard says that should get it through to next year when the chamber hopes to transition the festival completely outside its control.
Millard suggested creating a separate non-profit organization or even a for-profit event management company to take over the festival. Details of that transition will be decided later if the festival continues this year.
Despite the recent announcement that the festival would be stopped, Millard says hes confident there is sufficient time to organize this years event if the pledges come through next week. He says Carl Wharton, who works closely with the festival cookers each year, is confident the festival can attract its usual number of cookers to participate in the event.
Anyone interested in making a pledge or contributing their time for the festival should contact chamber director Janet Sciacca at 859-6236 or janet@carolinafoothillschamber.com. You can also contact Tabitha Cantrell at info@blueridgebbqfestival.com.