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Preview: Blues & BBQ 2018

Volunteers needed to support growing summer festival
Grammy Award-winning blues artist Fantastic Negrito headlines the 12th annual North Liberty Blues & BBQ at Centennial Park, Saturday, July 14. With an expanded program schedule, the event will feature live music, barbecue, Iowa craft beer and family fun presented by Veridian Credit Union. Volunteers are being sought to support the event. (photo courtesy of DeAndre Forks)

NORTH LIBERTY– The committee for the 12th annual North Liberty Blues & BBQ has wasted no time getting the word out and recruiting volunteers in anticipation of the one-day festival. At the one-month-out mark, June 14, they held the first pre-party kickoff on the patio of Reds Alehouse, sponsored by Junge Ford North Liberty. With a performance by blues keyboardist and Iowa City native David Zollo, the event provided an opportunity to show appreciation to those who have signed up to volunteer, get more people involved and spread promotional materials throughout the Corridor for what’s shaping up to be North Liberty’s biggest summer festival yet.

Festival preludes

The Pig & Pint Prelude returns for its second year, Friday, July 13, from 6 to 9 p.m. The ticketed fundraiser supports the commitment to keeping the festival free for all attendees on Saturday, July 14. It features a barbecue buffet provided by T.C. Bonez BBQ & Catering, music from International Blues Challenge Champion Kevin “B.F.” Burt, pours from the Iowa Craft Beer Tent, and two features new to 2018: a Commemorative Pig & Pint Prelude event glass and tastings from a limited-run Big Grove beer cask.
“It allows for a more intimate Blues & BBQ experience for our supporters and fans,” noted Jillian Miller, community engagement coordinator for the City of North Liberty and a member of the event’s planning committee.
Space is limited to 300 attendees and only a handful of tickets are left, which are available through the event’s website, northlibertyblues.org.
The festival will also be preceded by the North Liberty Community Pantry’s sixth annual Turkey Trot. The pantry is currently taking registration for its 10k, 5k and one-mile fun run, which starts and ends at Centennial Park, July 14, at 9 a.m. “They’ve got great goodies that come along with signing up for that, including supporting the pantry’s Thanksgiving in July initiative,” Miller noted. “That is something that has grown into a great collaboration over the past few years.”
Those interested in registering can do so though the Blues & BBQ website or at northlibertycommunitypantry.org.

New and returning activities

As for what’s in store at this year’s festival, it’s only expanding. Thanks to community support, the event will add an extra hour of free activities, broadening from six to seven hours this year. The children’s activity tent, or “The Pit,” will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We’ve partnered with about a dozen non-profit and service organizations in the community to put on activities, art projects or games that people can play and interact with their families that is under a shaded tent, so it provides a nice break from the sun,” Miller added.
New inclusions to 2018 include airbrushed tattoos and Minute to Win it games, where participants must complete a challenge within a minute’s time in a bracketed competition.
“This is a way to earn some Blues & BBQ merchandise, some food and beverage coupons and something else to look forward to during the day while they’re out at the park,” she explained.
Seven inflatable rides will be present, and for kids eager to burn off energy, Centennial Park’s first playground, currently being assembled, will also be ready on the northeast corner of the park by July 14. A petting zoo will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and stunt kites will return for a second year, with 180 GO! Performing choreographed routines to music from noon to 4 p.m.
The event will also provide more activities for teens and young adults, such as laser tag, which will include s field of inflatable obstacle, and an MLB Strike Zone, a pitching game providing a chance to win prizes. Miller said the inclusion of such games will cater to a wider age range than previous years. A full list of activity times and age groups is available on the website.

Grammy-winning talent

Maintaining its level of nationally and internationally recognized artists for a third year, 2018’s Blues & BBQ concert features an impressive caliber of talent. The festival will be headlined by Fantastic Negrito, winner of the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. The guitarist and songwriter yields an inspirational story marked with tragedy and resilience, including a past of drug dealing and a near-fatal car crash that left him in a coma for three weeks. Since then, he’s returned to the music industry and become an international success, releasing his sophomore album, Please Don’t Be Dead, on June 15.
“We will be one of the first live performances, in North Liberty, that he will be debuting his new tracks live, so we’re really excited to have him here and have his storytelling,” Miller said. “He tackles current society and issues through his lyrics in a beautiful way.”
Performances are scheduled at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m., with plenty of local and regional acts. A playlist is accessible from the festival’s website, offering a taste of what to expect at this year’s concert.
“Our surveys the past couple of years have shown some people coming from throughout the state, throughout the Midwest– as we’ve gotten these more nationally and internationally known artists as our headliner, we’re seeing people travel specifically for those artists,” Miller noted, adding that the committee has gone the extra step this year to promote beyond North Liberty.
With last year hosting an estimated 17,000 attendees, the festival will accommodate the growing crowd through its shuttle system for a second year. This provides off-site park transportation options at University of Iowa Community Credit Union and North Bend Elementary, in addition to grass parking at Centennial Park. Six shuttles will make continuous loops every 10 minutes, and strollers are welcome.
“We had really positive feedback on that, both from an operational standpoint from our committee on the driver end but also from the public,” Miller cited. “So as the festival grows, and we have more off-site parking options, it allows us more room in the park to accommodate those crowds and to add more programming.”

Bites and brews

Of course, North Liberty Blues & BBQ wouldn’t be complete without a thorough selection of quality food and beverages. The event will have 15 food vendors on site, serving up barbeque beginning at 11 a.m. The Iowa Craft Beer Tent will be open to all ages, with 15 Iowa brewery taps, root beer and water dispensers on site.
Heading into July, Miller emphasizes the need to fill remaining volunteer slots to support the ambitious one-day festival.
“It takes about 300 volunteers to pull off this day, and we still have about 80 slots still available,” she explained.
Those interested can find the Volunteer link at northlibertyblues.org, where various two- to three-hour shifts are offered. Benefits of being a volunteer include a T-shirt, a fanny pack bearing some goodies and a $5 voucher that can be used towards food or drink.
“It’s a great opportunity to give back to the community,” Miller said, “especially if they partake every year and enjoy this free entertainment at Blues & BBQ.”