CLARION — This weekend’s Clarion BBQ Festival (Friday through Sunday) promises good food, chainsaw wood carving, live musical entertainment, and shopping in a family-friendly atmosphere. Located in the Clarion Mall parking lot each day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., proceeds raised from the event will be split equally between the Clarion University Tippin Scholarship Fund and Clarion Hospital Cancer Center.
The brainchild of Clarion University alumnus Robert “Bo” Garritano, the idea for the BBQ Festival, now in its fourth year, was conceived in a conversation with Tracy Becker of the Clarion Chamber of Commerce on the steps of the county courthouse during the Autumn Leaf Festival. Garritano recruited John Stroup, executive director of the Clarion Hospital Foundation, and involved members of the administration at Clarion University and community constituents to bring the idea to life.
“Our mission was to create a springtime festival that draws barbeque fans, music lovers, and travelers from near and far to come to Clarion to have fun, shop, and explore our beautiful town, region, and community. At the same time, we are helping our beneficiaries, The Clarion Hospital Cancer Center and the Clarion Tippin Scholarship Fund, with their missions,” Garritano said.
“I really appreciated when Bo came to me. I had somebody who wanted to do this, but we didn’t have the right situation. Bo presented the right situation for us to work as a team and get this out,” Stroup said.
The Tippin Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to Clarion University student-athletes, many of whom, along with their coaches, have made a commitment to becoming involved with the community. Those funds going to the Clarion Cancer Center will be primarily directed toward the purchase of 3-D mammography equipment. Following the 2018 event $8,000 was split evenly between the two.
As it is every year, barbeque will be the highlight of the event. Professional vendors include Rub N Tug (Clarion/Sligo), Devil’s BBQ (Brookville), Pappawood BBQ (Beaver, Pa.), Eat my Pork (North Huntingdon, Pa.), and GR Concessions (Middletown, Ohio). Each will be offering their take on brisket, chicken and pork, with a few vendor-specific delicacies thrown in for good measure. Grilling and smoking begins on Friday and will continue through the weekend.
Ten local and regional amateur barbeque teams are set to square off Saturday and Sunday in the Backyard Brawl. Though their barbeque won’t be for sale like that of the event’s vendors, they will add to the sights, sounds and smells of the event.
Over the previous three years chainsaw woodcarving has become closely associated with the BBQ Festival. This year will be no exception, with carving having begun in the mall’s parking lot on Wednesday. Among the pieces to be carved and auctioned off will be a replica of the Clarion County Courthouse produced by Brian Fox and Steve Nelson. The auction is scheduled for Saturday evening.
Performances by local musicians are also synonymous with the event. Robyn Young will be performing Friday evening, with Samantha Sears (12-2 p.m.) and the Rum Dums (5-8 p.m.) taking the entertainment stage Saturday. Additionally on Saturday, a color guard of veterans will be presenting the colors in a salute to the military. Performers from the Barrow Civic Theater in Franklin will be featured on Sunday, dancing and performing songs from the musical “Grease.”
New this year is the BBQ Marketplace offering an assortment of barbeque-related products. Vendors include Bell-View Brand Foods, Jesalyn Girt (rubs, spices), Maple Glen Farms (jellies, jams, salsa), King Krunch (sweet and savory popcorn and pretzels), Weebulls (pickles), and Shuey’s Creek Bottom Farm and Crafts (pot holders, aprons, hot pads, place mats). Also new is the inclusion of local wineries and distilleries. Deer Creek Winery, Bear Creek Winery, Blackbird Distillery, and Chicken Hill Distillery will have products for sale to those 21 or older (bottles cannot be opened on premise). Adult beverages, including beer, IPAs and local wines, will be available for consumption at the festival, along with pop and water.
Both Garritano and Stroup are particularly enthusiastic regarding this year’s prize, a 100-pound smoked pig provided by O’Neils Quality Meats. Coming with macaroni and cheese and roasted potatoes from the Red River Roadhouse, the prize will serve up to 100 people on the date/day of the winner’s choosing. Tickets will be available on-site for a $5 donation, with the drawing held Saturday at 6 p.m.
“Really the food is the thing. A lot of camaraderie, friendships, and hopefully you see your neighbors and other family members there to go have some barbeque,” Stroup said.
“When you come to the festival, it is so cool to watch people sit at the picnic tables and sit with their families and go over and pick out what type of barbeque they want,” Garritano said.