NORTH WILDWOOD — When it comes to envisioning an idea that’s truly All-American, you’d be hard pressed to come up with an example that tops either the blues or barbecue.
So if you’re organizing a festival that promises to celebrate all that’s great about America, why not put the two where they rightfully belong — together.
For three days, the quiet end of the Wildwoods plays host to the area’s largest three-day event, a festival of smoking meats and rocking heartbreak that’s expected to draw as many as 70,000 people to North Wildwood for its 20th consecutive year.
The New Jersey State BBQ Championship and Anglesea Blues Festival promise some of the country’s best food, live cooking demonstrations, competition as well as some of the top regional and national blues acts.
“You think about what you want to do on a summer’s day, and it’s perfect,” said Eric Shenkus, chairman of the festival. “I think it’s the combination of things. You’ve got the barbecue, the blues, you’ve got the beach. It’s the three B’s, as I call it.”
The festival begins Friday, kicking off with street vendors and live music performed on the main stage from 4 to 11 p.m. On Saturday, festivities kick off at 10 a.m. and run until 11 p.m., and on Sunday the event reopens at 10 a.m. and concludes at 6 p.m.
The barbecue competition might be the most prestigious in the state. In all, 68 teams are competing for more than $10,000 in cash prizes. More importantly, Shenkus said, are the bragging rights these pit masters are fighting for.
In terms of barbecue, this is the real deal. The competition is held by the Kansas City Barbeque Society and features more than 100 certified barbecue judges. Competitors come from all over the East Coast, as far north as New Hampshire and as far south as Virginia, Shenkus said.
Though the competition is serious, attitudes aren’t. Non-competitors are welcome to tour the competition area, check out what pit masters are doing and, if greeted by a smiling face, feel free to ask a question or two.
“The competitors are all friendly,” Shenkus said. “They’re always giving people advice, and those who want to pick up their backyard barbecue game, it’s a great opportunity to ask a question.”
In addition to the food and music, the event features an open-air market. There’s plenty of music and food-related gear to browse between bites. Things as small as personalized grill scrapers to as big as towable barbecue rigs will be available for purchase if you’re so inclined. The event is free, however, so families are invited to simply walk around and enjoy the sites and sounds should they want.
“It’s a good, fun, family event, and it’s been going on for so long it’s become a tradition for a lot of families,” Shenkus said. “I was talking to some folks the other day, they said they started coming here as little kids and now they’re bringing their kids.”
The barbecue festival began as a way to raise money for the Anglesea Volunteer Fire Company. Just two years after its founding, the blues festival joined in to make the event a double bill. That’s how it’s stayed ever since.
Shenkus said the two just work together.
“We found that blues and barbecue really matched perfectly,” he said. “If I go into a barbecue joint and they’re not playing blues music, I start to question the place, because really they just go hand in hand.”
For a full list of events, locations and times, visit njbbq.com.