My town has gained some minor notoriety for its annual barbecue festival, so after three years living here, it was probably about time for me to pay a visit. My oldest son wanted to go, and the timing was convenient, so we jumped in his car and drove over to the park to check it out.
For $5 a head, we were treated to the high honor of smelling barbecue from 200+ competitive grillers; watching said grillers, their friends, and their relations chow down on barbecue; and listening to a marginal jazz band. We couldn’t sample barbecue, we couldn’t even buy barbecue, other than from a single stand operated by a local supermarket chain. We felt somewhat let down, to put it mildly.
After about 15 minutes of wandering around the park with a few hundred other lost souls watching other people eat (and leave a lot of leftovers for the flies), we decided we were wasting our time and left to have dinner at a barbecue restaurant in a neighboring town. That restaurant, interestingly enough, was crowded, when all the real barbecue action was supposed to be happening at our town’s park.
My mind fairly buzzed with questions: What was the point of a cover charge if all it bought me was a snoot full of smoke? Why even admit the public on a night apparently reserved for private parties? Why did a bunch of people who make money on the side marketing their sauces and rubs totally disregard a prime opportunity to advertise their wares by selling some barbecue to a captive audience in Greater Kansas City, the Jerusalem of barbecue? Why did they hire such a lousy band? Why did the town leadership put such an anemic effort behind an event with national visibility?
It reminded me of a commercial for the Yellow Pages I saw a few years ago. Interviewer walks into a store manned by a lone proprietor selling a single product:
Interviewer: “Why don’t you advertise in the Yellow Pages?”
Proprietor: “Well, this is Bob’s (insert product name here). If I advertise, people will want to come see my (product). They may even want to buy my (product). If they did that, it wouldn’t be Bob’s (product) any more, now, would it?”
Barbecue is about community. You don’t make barbecue for yourself, you invite everybody over. In fairness, I didn’t expect free food, and I don’t begrudge people reserving some time to focus on their close friends and immediate family. However, if I want to eat supermarket barbecue, I’ll go to the supermarket, and I don’t expect to attend what is clearly and proudly advertised as a public event and be treated like I’m intruding on somebody else’s party.
I’m not easily offended, but this event managed to offend me. I felt like the victim of a cheap practical joke. Will I return? No. Will I recommend the event to my friends? No. Will I actively discourage people from attending? You bet.
And all those “Bobs” can breathe easy. I won’t try to buy Bob’s BBQ, not ever.