In the beginning…it started with two ladies, a dream, and two more ladies with the tools to make it happen. The dream was to create an event similar to Memphis in May. With a reputation for great Western Kentucky barbecue, it only stood to reason that the River City was the ideal location for a barbecue festival.
For years, MeMe Wiley, former CVB director, and her associate and current director, Mary Hammond talked about creating this event. They had even met with representatives from other communities to find out how to get this huge undertaking off the ground. The concept was there, but organizers were needed to develop the dream.
Enter Ro Morse, who succeeded MeMe as CVB director, and Susie Dawahare Coiner. One evening while having dinner at the Ninth Street House, Ro overheard Susie talking about planning a barbecue event as a fundraiser for a local charity. A former member of the food service industry, Ro easily envisioned the possibility of realizing MeMe and Mary’s dream and introduced herself to Susie. The two ladies immediately saw the mutual benefit of working together. Ro approached the Visitors Bureau board to ask for support in her endeavor to help develop an annual barbecue festival, knowing that it would have a favorable impact on tourism as the years progressed.
After gaining support from tourism, Ro and Susie were off to find chickens and pigs. They headed down Highway 45 to Seaboard Farms, now ConAgra, developing the event on the way. The general manager of Seaboard (ConAgra) told them that he could not offer financial support but agreed to supply the chickens. Kicking each other under the table, Ro and Susie were ecstatic but remained cool as cucumbers.
On the return trip, they came up with the idea of a Barbecue Tournament & Pig Out and decided to make it a Community Charitable Event that ran from dawn to dusk. They then sold the idea to Joe Metzger, Metzger Packing Company, who graciously agreed to supply the pork. Metzger Packing Company was a long time supporter of the Barbecue on the River.
Beginning Thursday, September 22, the smell of chicken and pork will hover over 2 ½ blocks of camps in historic downtown Paducah. More than 60 tons of chicken and pork will be grilled, smoked, cooked and eaten, and nearly $500,000 raised for local charities. Teams from all over the region will compete for the prestige of being named Grand Champion.
Along with the smell of smoked chicken and pork hovering over the camps, the music befits the scene as hot blues, bluegrass, jazz and classic roack fill the air. It’s like coming home to a big family reunion, no matter where you are from.
Although Paducah’s Barbecue on the River is a fun event, the contestants are very serious about their barbecue. The “local flavor” of West Kentucky Barbecue is renown throughout the land. Amateur and down-home chefs find themselves competing against restaurateurs and professionals who want to prove that their barbecue is the BEST! A number of contestants have developed spin-off careers with barbecue related products…cookbooks, sauces, grill, smokers and more
As well as impacting Paducah’s charities and economy, the Barbecue on the River has also provided a boost for Paducah Mains Street’s Old Market Days. Main Street, a non-profit organization dedicated to downtown revitalization efforts, has put together a group of artists and crafters, offering such items as candles, herb products, silver and hemp jewelry, decorative art and face painting. The crafters sell their wares along the Second Street promenade on the perimeter of the festival.
“Get your appetites ready!” says Chair Susie Coiner, as she and a whole crew of loyal and willing volunteers continue the tradition with the 17th Ever Barbecue on the River & Old Market Days. Happy barbecuers will work as a team to do something they love for charity, the community and the people who come from miles around just to partake of the feast. It’s a time for black and white checkered tablecloths and all those foods that say September, down home and friendly.