Update: Caleb Lee Hutchinson, the runner-up on “American Idol” in 2018, replaces Dylan Schneider, who had to drop out of the Tri City BBQ Fest lineup on Saturday, September 21.
Popular and rising music acts are in store for this year’s Tri City BBQ Fest, which returns for a sixth outing on September 20 and 21.
“We’re entering the third year of totally free admission and free concerts,” said Evan Blakley, executive director of the Chamber & Development Council (CDC) of Crawford County. “Our Saturday night last year was, by far, a record breaker for attendance and beer sales.”
The free admission/free concert model is working well for the Tri City BBQ Fest.
“The festival has turned a small profit that last three years, thanks to our wonderful sponsors and the attendance ramping up,” he said.
The headline music act for Friday night of the festival will be Arch Allies.
“They are definitely one of the top tribute bands across the Midwest,” Blakley said. “They cover Styx, Journey, and REO Speedwagon.”
The band puts on an entertaining show that features costume changes, special effects and video screens.
“We’ve invested quite a bit more in our Friday entertainment this year to bring in Arch Allies,” he said.
Arch Allies has the same agent as Hairball, a popular act that has been a part of the Tri City BBQ Fest in the past.
“They’ve been selling out larger venues in cities across the Midwest at $15 a ticket, so we’re excited for their fan base to discover this free show and make a trip to Denison,” he said.
“We think it’s a good fit for the area and we think our visitors will have a lot of fun on Friday night.”
Opening for Arch Allies will be Rukkus, a band with a local connection. Band member Ben Einck’s wife, Jodi (Coleman), is from Denison and suggested the band to the CDC for the festival.
Saturday, September 21, features co-headline acts, Blakley said.
A young performer named Dylan Schnieder will be the closing act on Saturday.
“He’s a chart-climbing country act and he’s racking up YouTube views and Spotify plays,” Blakley said.
The country duo Brown & Gray is the other co-headliner.
Kaci Brown is an American and Sam Gray is British.
“They’ve had a really big hit on SiriusXM The Highway called ‘Top Down,’” Blakley said.
“We try to catch these artists at just the right time as they are breaking out. See them while you can for free. They keep releasing new music and climbing up the charts in Nashville and across the country.”
Both acts could be top-line performers in the future, he said.
Pony Creek, from Omaha, will play earlier on Saturday. The band played at the BBQ Fest two years ago.
Blakley described their music as “upbeat country with a rock edge.”
Also on Saturday, Omaha Street Percussion is a returning act and Matt Cox is new.
Cox does a one-man blues and roots rock show.
An after party, featuring a karaoke competition, will kick off when the main acts are done performing on Saturday.
Ten performers will compete for cash prizes totaling $1,000.
“There will be a judging panel and judging based on crowd response to each performance,” Blakley said.
The karaoke performers will get to sing on the professional stage with the main sound system.
“This will be the most high-profile, professional karaoke that most people will ever have a chance to do,” Blakley said.
Rules for entering the karaoke contest will be available soon.
The barbecue contest and layout of the event will be essentially the same as last year.
Twenty teams had committed as of Thursday.
“Teams are coming in very strong,” Blakley said. “A lot of others are talking to us and preparing their applications.”
Crawford County Tourism Coordinator Blair Weigum said at least three new teams will be joining the event this year.
“The KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) world really knows about us,” Blakley said. “The teams that have been here before share a lot of good word of mouth, and that helps us get new teams.”
The event could draw up to 40 teams this year, he said. The previous high was 35.
The pot of prize money will be deeper this year with the addition of a $3,000 grant from Smithfield Foods.
The amateur barbecue competition will return.
“We were able to iron out some of the kinks and figure out ways to improve that, based on last year,” Blakley said. “One thing we learned is that we would have no problem selling more judges’ wrist bands to participate in that, so more people will get to taste the amateur entries and vote on those this year.”
New Iowa brews will be available in the craft beer tent, along with an expanded selection of non-beer options. Hard seltzers and spritzers and other non-beer drinks will be for sale.
Blakley said the BBQ fest offers a lot of bang for the buck.
“Most festivals across the nation charge $75 to $150 to get in,” he said. “We are totally free. We put a lot of effort into the comfort of our guests, which is rare for festivals. We have places to sit, we have shade and our beers are only $5. If you go to a lot of other festivals in the area, they could be a substantially higher price with a lot less selection.”
The Hog Wild Car Show will be back on the Saturday of the event. Preregistration, which is due by September 7, is $15. Registration is $20 on the day of the event.
The Kids’ Zone layout will be a little bit different due to several new attractions.
One new event will be the Great American Duck Race, which is put on by a company from New Mexico.
The attraction features real ducks.
“They take volunteers from the crowd to release the ducks,” said Shani Bonner, CDC administrative assistant.
Members of the audience get to pet the ducks between shows, she said.
Two high school classes have decided to have their reunions during the festival.
“It’s nice to see alumni choose the BBQ Fest as a place to meet up and reconnect,” Blakley said.
Helicopter rides, taking off and landing at the old hospital site on 20th Street, will take place during most of the festival open hours on both days
Blakley said sponsorships for the Tri City BBQ Fest have been strong.
“Those are due by the end of August and we’re already at two-thirds of our goal,” he said.
A call for volunteers will go out soon.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a rewarding experience,” Blakley said.
Volunteers are asked to work at least four hours, which can be divided over several shifts.
“A lot of volunteers start with that and end up staying longer because they enjoy giving back to their community,” he said.
Volunteers also get a free t-shirt.
For more information, contact the CDC at 712-263-5621.