Riverside Blues and Barbecue Festival back and bigger than before
At Saturday's Riverside Blues & BBQ Festival on Beacon Field in Greenfield, contestants hoist beer steins filled with water to see who can hold the stein the longest. Greenfield's male and female winners will compete again in Boston and, if they win there, go on to compete in Germany. Purchase photo reprints »
Bill Minahan of barbeque competition team Que and a Half Men uses a syringe to inject secret barbeque sauce into pork during Saturday's Riverside Blues & BBQ Festival at Beacon Field in Greenfield. Purchase photo reprints »
At Saturday's Riverside Blues & BBQ Festival on Beacon Field in Greenfield, Will Roberts of Acadia, FL poses with just some of the many trophies won by his barbeque competition team, Florida Skin and Bones. Purchase photo reprints »
Tim Harty of Westminster, VT pares fat from a piece of meat to ready it for TWC Smokers' entry into the barbeque competition at Saturday's Riverside Blues & BBQ Festival at Beacon Field in Greenfield. Purchase photo reprints »
The winner of the beer stein holding contest grimaces as he perserveres during Saturday's Riverside Blues & BBQ Festival at Beacon Field in Greenfield. Purchase photo reprints »
Brynna Fahey, 3, of Deerfield plays in a pile of fresh, clean straw during Saturday's Riverside Blues & BBQ Festival at Beacon Field in Greenfield. Purchase photo reprints »
During Saturday's Riverside Blues and BBQ Festival at Beacon Field in Greenfield, Tarot reader Sissy Nuez ponders the cards and delivers a surprisingly apt reading to the photographer. Purchase photo reprints »
The triangular tri-tip is the bottom end of the sirloin and is difficult to cook but when done right is tender and a favorite of grillers in California. Matthew Lacey coats tri-tips with a rub at the Meat Markt in Fresno, California, on September 7, 2012. (John Walker/Fresno Bee/MCT) Purchase photo reprints »
GREENFIELD — Amateur barbecue artists and seasoned pros alike camped out Saturday and Sunday for the Riverside Blues and Barbecue Festival.
A crowd of more than 500 descended on Beacon Field for the first day of the festival, which featured several blues bands, kids’ activities, a beer sampling area, and, of course, food. Last year’s one-day festival went well, so organizers decided to stretch it to two days for this year.
The early birds Saturday got to judge chicken wings from 12 contestants for the people’s choice award. The sampling started at noon, and the wings flew right out of their serving trays. No two entries were alike — they ranged from sweet to spicy, from southwestern to teriyaki.
Judges also sank their teeth into a pile of wings, along with sausage, pizza and dessert. Though four dishes were judged Saturday, the suspense lasted all weekend, since the winners weren’t announced until the end of the day Sunday.
A dozen teams from around the country competed, many setting up camp Friday night so they could get an early start on their slow-cooked cuisine. Some brought trailers, others RVs, and a few brave souls pitched tents despite the variable weather.
Though they all seemed to be having fun, they were hard at work all weekend. Before the judges put down their dessert spoons, many teams had already started to prep huge slabs of pork and beef brisket.
Bill Minahan, pitmaster of “Cue and a Half Men,” spent Saturday afternoon tirelessly trimming Sunday’s pork shoulder, pounding on the meat with a metal tenderizer, slicing into the fat, and injecting it with his special blend of sauce. At midnight, he said, he would toss it in the smoker to cook for 12 to 14 hours.
The team, from Rockland, has been cooking together since last year, and this weekend marked their 14th competition this year. Mike MacInnis, Michael “Mauler” Gilpin and Minnihan have traveled to Maine, Connecti-cut, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, winding up with several top 10 finishes.
What are their secrets?
“Slow and low (heat),” said Gilpin. “And if you’re lookin’, it ain’t cookin’.”
Barbecue is their hobby, but it’s not a cheap one. Gilpin said a two-day competition can run them $1,200 in fuel, food and fees.
Veteran BBQ team Skin and Bones came all the way from Arcadia, Fla., to compete at several contests in the Northeast. Cooking competitively since 2003, Rooster Roberts and son Will Roberts have a double-edged approach. Will staffs the team’s vending trailer, serving the crowd, while Rooster cooks for the judges.
TWC Smokers, of southern Vermont, haven’t entered a contest in years, but decided to give it a shot. Tim Harty, Chris Tomberg and Wade Kemp got their grills together and headed out for Greenfield for the weekend, unsure how they’d do or what the competition would be like.
Why did they come?
“Why wouldn’t we?” asked Harty. “There’s great food, great music, and great beer.”
They found great company, too.
“Everyone here that we’ve talked to has been willing to share their experience — it’s been great,” said Tomberg. “We’ve met lots of really friendly people here.”
In between a reporter’s questions, Tomberg asked his own, curious about the town and the area.
“There’s some beautiful architecture here,” he said, and asked what kind of industry Greenfield had in its former years.
“And what’s that tower up there?” he asked, pointing to Poet’s Seat.
He said he’d like to come back with his family in tow, to explore the area.
Hometown favorites Lefty’s Brewery and the People’s Pint were serving up samples in the beer tasting section, alongside other vendors from across the country.
Lefty’s co-owner Melissa Goldfarb’s favorite barbecue beer?
“Our English Porter is fantastic with barbecue, pulled pork, chicken or chili,” she beamed.
She said the two-year-old brewery is growing quickly, and is currently putting out 10 different beers, from pale ales to black-as-night stouts and porters.
At the People’s Pint’s booth, Woodley Wardell said he noticed a lot of new faces.
“I’ve met a lot of people today that just moved to town, or came out from central Mass. today, and are out exploring the area,” said the brew-pub’s sales and distribution manager. Many of those visitors will be able to find the pint’s beers close to home; the brewery is now shipping beer as far east as Boston.
Though the day’s festivities ended at 5 p.m. and the vendors packed up to come back Sunday, the chefs cooked on through the night, undoubtedly wondering what news Sunday’s results would bring.
The festival was put on by the Greenfield Recreation Department and sponsored by several area businesses.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279