In just a few weeks, one of my favorite annual events will take Excelsior Springs by storm.
Don’t get me wrong—I love Waterfest, and over the past few years it’s been really growing and adding new features that make it an awesome way to share our community with others and with ourselves. There are other events, like the Christmas celebration, that I think are really good for our community and provide the right mix of fun and local pride.
But the BBQ and Fly-In on the River, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Aug. 17-18, is the one that I invite the most people to. I usually try to get as many as 10 or 20 of my friends to join me there. Sometimes they’re just pals that I enjoy spending time with; sometimes they’re people from out of town that don’t know much about Excelsior Springs. And sometimes they’re local people who just don’t venture out in their own community very often.
For those who don’t come downtown, or haven’t been downtown in a while, I’m always trying to get them to leave their comfort zone and check it out. It’s a much different place from what I remember from my high school years in the late 1980s—or even the downtown Excelsior Springs of just 10 years ago. But anyone who’s come to the Friday night part of the BBQ on the River event knows that it gives a picture of downtown Excelsior Springs that just can’t be found any other time.
I’ve been down there some years when there have been literally thousands of people packed in on Broadway. I remember one year that I guessed I could have crowd-surfed for more than a block, from one side of the street to the other, without ever being afraid of being dropped. The crowd was that thick—there was no place to drop even if someone had been so inclined.
Even when the weather isn’t ideal, due to excessive heat or rain, the crowds will still turn out. This year they’re anticipating more than 70 competitive barbecue teams to travel here, sometimes from hundreds of miles away, to spend Friday night partying and Saturday competing. They’re serious about their hobby—they’ve spent hundreds of dollars on food and entry fees for this contest alone—but they also know how to get down and have fun. Barbecue teams are among the wildest and zaniest people you’re likely to meet. Just walking up and down the street, checking out the creative team names, looking at the decorations at their team site and seeing their set-ups for the cooking part of the contest is an eye-opening experience. But for some real fun, strike up a conversation with some of these folks. They’re interesting and entertaining and, four times out of five, they’ll offer you a taste of what they’re cooking. Heck, nine times out of 10 they’ll end up being a “lifelong friend,” even if you never see them again.
To be part of the fun, you will have to pay a small fee at the gate. Entry costs $5 and gets you an armband that shows you’re a legitimate participant. Plus, that $5 per person goes to a great cause—the BBQ Committtee has used those gate fees to raise tens of thousands of dollars over the years for local causes ranging from the parks to the museum to first responders.
The contest grounds are still open on Saturday, but if you’re looking for a party you won’t find it then. By that time, the teams have buckled down and are getting their best products of the last day and a half of smoking ready for the judging. Don’t get me wrong—they’re still friendly and fun, but their focus is no longer on the party and has moved on to the competitive side of things.
But that doesn’t mean the fun is over. Get back in your car and drive out to Missouri 10, then head to the east side of town. Just south of the highway is the Excelsior Springs Memorial Airport, where a fly-in will attract dozens of small planes—some of them fascinating antiques—and maybe even some more unusual aircraft like the news choppers that broadcast aerial shots on our TV news each night.
I’m always looking for ways to share the best of Excelsior Springs with people who are newcomers—or local people who don’t know just how much fun their own community can be. The BBQ and Fly-In on the River never disappoints.
By Eric Copeland • firstname.lastname@example.org