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BBQ & ?: Blues concert bites the dust

By Walter Geiger Music lovers are singing the blues after the local chamber of commerce decided to ax the Ritz Park blues concert from the BBQ & Blues Festival next year. In fact, the word ‘˜Blues’ will no longer be incorporated in the name of the event. Additionally, Ritz Park will not be an event venue. ’We are planning to take the event back to the basics and really focus a lot of our attention on the barbecue competition. We plan to start recruiting teams earlier, open a backyard competition for the community, increase the size of the car show, bring back the kids’ park, increase the number of arts and crafts vendors and provide free entertainment Friday afternoon and all day Saturday,’ chamber president Marshall Hooks said. The chamber will also reportedly expand the cornhole tournament. Longtime event co-founder Carl Pruett, who coordinated music for the main event concert and won what will apparently be the last Georgia Music Legend Award given here, was incensed. ’Let’s see. They’re going to cut the blues but add more arts and crafts vendors. Barnesville already has that. It’s called Buggy Days,’ Pruett said. ’We are already in communication with several other communities that are interested in the concert. We will put it on somewhere it will be appreciated and continue the award,’ Pruett added. Hooks said the new name for the festival will be announced within the next two weeks. ‘Changing the name does not change the identity it just allows us to market it in different ways than we have been able to before,’ he said. Late Barnesville mayor Dewaine T. Bell, another co-founder of the festival, will continue to be honored. The small stage used for free concerts and the BBQ awards will be renamed in his honor and the music scholarship named for him will be presented. This year’s BBQ competition will be the Florida Barbecue Association’s Georgia state championship and the festival has been moved back a week to May 1-2 to accommodate that designation. ’We wanted to keep the event true to its roots while continuing to make it viable for the chamber and the community. In order for it to continue, there were several things that had to change and several areas we had to rework,’ Hooks said. Longtime event chairman T.J. Imberger had to distance himself from the festival due to greatly expanded duties at his job. He plans to work with new chairman Tim Rooks as much as possible. He lamented the changes but understands the situation. ’It’s nobody’s fault really. The festival didn’t lose money but it didn’t make any money either. We were in the position of having to either go national with it or downsize and the chamber chose to downsize,’ he said. Imberger said he put about 200 hours of work into the event each year and taking it to the next level would have required five chairman level managers willing to put in a similar effort. ’Nobody stepped up,’ Imberger said. He also noted that things have changed drastically in the barbecue competition world. ’Everybody is doing them now. We had $10,000 in prize money. We needed $25,000 to compete. We used to have one of the few events in Georgia and teams came in droves. Now the national level teams with TV shows charge you to come to your event,’ he added. Controlled access is also a necessity which Barnesville could not do without moving the event away from the downtown area. He said the Smoke on The Water festival in Upson County netted $30,000 because it is held at Bickley’s Lake and attendees pay an admission fee. ’We need controlled access. The Summers Field park could have been designed to hold it but was not. The real lesson to this community is that we screwed up years ago when we didn’t build the Ag. Center. It would have been perfect,’ Imberger concluded.

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