Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 12, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — Sweet and savory scents filled downtown Kannapolis on Saturday morning, as the 34th annual Village Fest swung into high gear.
For organizers of the inaugural Jiggy with the Piggy Barbecue Challenge, the smoke from 59 cookers was the smell of success.
This year’s Village Fest ran concurrently with a cluster of city-backed events in the center of Kannapolis.
The city’s Parks and Recreation department celebrated National Train Day at the downtown Amtrak station.
And the N.C. Music Hall of Fame, located downtown, held its second annual Rhythm & Run 5K race at 9 a.m. Saturday.
This followed a Friday night concert by country band Parmalee in Village Park and other events downtown, capped off by fireworks.
All that action meant a boost in interest, said Village Fest organizer Brenda Drye of the Cabarrus Events Association.
“Today, we have had more craft and food vendors than we have had in a long time” — about 155 vendors in all, Drye said.
She estimated total attendance at around 15,000 for both days’ events.
Drye said that Jiggy with the Piggy had brought “all positive remarks” from Village Fest participants.
“The People’s Choice event at lunch was phenomenal,” Drye said.
For $10, guests could purchase a wristband and sample barbecue from over 40 cook teams.
By 1 p.m., hundreds of pounds of barbecue had vanished, and staff were hanging “SOLD OUT” banners at the entryway.
Jeff Carter, of China Grove, said that at first he thought the barbecue cook-off was the main event.
“It’s kind of unique, because they don’t have that many of them,” Carter said, as he stood in the former Cabarrus Bank building where the People’s Choice barbecue tasting was held.
Carter said he’s a barbecue fan, but new to this kind of sanctioned competition.
Along the streets of downtown Kannapolis and on the border of the N.C. Research Campus, cook teams’ RVs and cookers were set up — each team with its own miniature campground.
Starting Friday evening, teams slow-cooked and carefully prepared pork butts, ribs, chicken and beef briskets.
Inside Rotary Hall on West Avenue, judges from the Kansas City Barbecue Society judged each team’s entries.
Much like NASCAR’s stock car cup series, teams competing at KCBS events can earn competition points toward the organization’s national championship.
Jiggy with the Piggy drew attention from competition newcomers and long-time competitors alike.
“This is our second (competition) event, the first of this season,” said Richard Russell, of team Johnny Ray Barbecue, based in Mt. Holly.
Johnny Ray Bousselot, the team’s namesake, had just finished slicing and carefully arranging choice pieces of beef brisket for their entry in the day’s last category.
“We’re trying to build this brand. We want street credibility,” Bousselot said. “Money’s fine, but we want the trophies.”
Bousselot said that spectators in Kannapolis had been eager to learn more about the competition series. “The crowd just makes this event,” Bousselot said.
“For a first-time event, it’s been excellent,” said Steve Finger, of team Smoke This!
They’ve been cooking competition barbecue since 2004, Finger said.
“It’s all first-class,” said Bob Roberts, of team Two Old Men and a Grill.
Roberts’ team went on to finish fourth overall.
His team was first in the Old North State BBQ Series standings after April’s competitions in King’s Mountain and Lexington.
“I had a decent cook, it wasn’t my best one, but it weren’t bad,” said Roberts.
All told, Saturday’s People’s Choice event raised about $3,400 for the Kannapolis Rotary Club, Smith said.
That came on top of the proceeds from Friday’s chicken wing People’s Choice competition, sponsored by the Cannon Memorial YMCA.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.