Music, barbecue and games will fill Hippodrome

This weekend's Banjo-B-Que Bluegrass Festival is just the sort of event Papa Joe would have wanted to attend.

The festival debuted last year in memory of Joseph "Papa Joe" Pond, the late owner of A.B. Beverage, who died in 2006.

It returns this Memorial Day weekend with all of Papa Joe's favorite things -- live music, a professional barbecue cook-off and a family-friendly atmosphere including crafts, camel rides, pig racing and games.

A fireworks show was added to Saturday's schedule, organizers said, "to honor those who have given their lives for our country this Memorial Day Weekend." Fireworks will light the night prior to Old Crow Medicine Show's closing set on the Main Stage.

North Augusta's Hippodrome is the backdrop to the weekend's events, which benefit the Joseph R. Pond Memorial Foundation.

Artists scheduled to perform include John Popper & the Duskray Troubadours, The Blue Dogs, The Whiskey Gentry, Sibling String and Crosstie Walkers on Friday and the Old Crow Medicine Show, Doc Watson & David Holt, Frontier Ruckus, Charlie Parr & the Black Twig Pickers, Chatham County Line, Little Roy & Lizzy and Peachtree Station on Saturday.

For Ketch Secor, who sings and plays fiddle, harmonica and banjo with Old Crow Medicine Show, it's an exciting two days of nearly nonstop music.

The band played the inaugural Papa Joe's festival, and loved every minute of it, despite last year's downpours, he said.

"It was wet, but great to be in that location. I love that music is connected to places. In the South, it's mule pules and taffy pulls and county fairs," he said. "You see the trappings of the fair from the stage."

Secor says he prefers younger, smaller festivals like Banjo-B-Que that are still making a name for themselves.

"I'm excited for the littler festivals because that's where the dust kicks up," he said. "You can look people in the eye."

Plus, he said with a laugh, there's a shorter wait for barbecue.

This weekend, cooks from across the country will compete for $40,000 in prize money, said Christy Beckham, an organizer for the event and marketing coordinator for A.B. Beverage.

Judging of the Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event begins Saturday and includes pork, ribs, chicken and brisket.

They'll also get a challenge with a twist. A South Carolina peach farm is donating fruit for a dessert competition. Last year's winner was a peach upside down cake, Beckham said.

More than 60 barbecue teams will compete, up from 48 last year. In addition to more barbecue competitors, Banjo-B-Que expects more campers this year, too, with at least a few dozen attendees pitching tents for the weekend.

"It'll be a lot more of a festival vibe," Beckham said. "We welcome people to do it. It's free and it's what we're all about here, low-cost fun for family."

Secor hopes it'll all make Papa Joe proud.

"You know, I never got to meet him, but he seems to be, posthumously, the real heart and soul of this event," Secor said. "I think Papa Joe would be really thrilled to know this event is happening with the music he loves, in the community he loves and the smell of barbecue in the background."

'Music anthropologist' to headline bluegrass fest
If you go

WHAT: Papa Joe's Banjo-B-Que Bluegrass Festival

WHEN: Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Friday and 11:30 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: The Hippodrome, 5540 Jefferson Davis Highway, North Augusta

COST: $30 weekend pass; $15 Friday; $25 Saturday. Kids 12 and younger are free. Buy online at ticketalternative.com.

LEARN MORE: banjobque.com

Kid's cook-off

New this year to Papa Joe's Banjo-B-Que is a cook-off for kids ages 10 to 15.

Teams of two kids and an adult will compete to cook the best gourmet burger. The event starts at 5 p.m. Friday at the Hippodrome. The winning team takes home two small Green Egg barbecues, donated by Fireside Outdoor Kitchens & Grills, which is sponsoring the event. A total of 15 teams can compete. Send e-mail to info@banjobque.com for details.

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