Friday is a holiday of sorts for the town of Dawson Springs as the 73rd Annual BBQ Festival officially gets underway.
Always held on the fourth Friday in July, the BBQ is “a tradition to be proud of because it is all due to our volunteers,” said chairperson Kathy Nichols.
The Dawson Springs Community Center — located at 108 West Keigan Street — is the sole benefactor of these volunteer efforts.
“The BBQ pays the insurance, keeps the lights on, water running, makes repairs to the building — it’s the community center’s source of income aside from rental fees,” Nichols said. “Because of COVID, we went a year basically without being able to rent it out and bring in any rental fees.”
As part of the BBQ experience, Dawsonians enjoy lunch and a street fair.
“It sounds like we make a lot of money, but it also costs a lot of money to put it on,” she said. “The food, the ingredients, the sauce — none of that is cheap.”
“We clear just enough to keep the building going,” Nichols said. “The community center isn’t getting rich by any stretch of the imagination.”
Lunch begins at 11 a.m. at the community center with the BBQ being sold at that location until the street fair starts at 6 p.m. Pricing for the BBQ is $13 per pound, $11 for a plate lunch, $6 a sandwich, a bottle of the special recipe BBQ sauce is $3, and drinks are $1 each. New to the menu this year are BBQ nachos, which are $7 an order.
Those who purchased BBQ last year will notice a price increase.
“We didn’t want to raise the prices, but we had to,” Nichols said. “They about doubled our cost for the meat on us.”
Due to rising numbers of positive COVID-19 cases locally, there will be limited indoor dining with tables socially distanced inside the community center from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Anyone, including individuals fully vaccinated, will be expected to wear a mask when inside the community center except when eating.
“We’re trying to run this as safely as possible,” said Nichols. “We will also continue the drive-thru system that was such a hit last year. You can order BBQ by the pound, plate, or sandwich, buy bottles of sauce, get your t-shirt, and purchase raffle tickets without leaving your vehicle.”
The local Food Giant store — located on Arcadia Avenue — will also have meat and sauce for sale around 11 a.m.
The meat doesn’t just appear at the community center and Food Giant ready for purchase at lunchtime — there is a time-honored process, and it’s all thanks to the volunteer efforts of many.
“The Knights of Columbus are graciously cooking the meat again,” Nichols said.
The Boston butts hit the pits at the municipal park early on Thursday morning. After the Knights of Columbus remove the meat from the pits before sunrise Friday morning, a host of volunteers will shred the meat from 6 a.m. until lunch.
“We need volunteers to help shred meat at the community center anytime between 6 and 11 a.m.,” Nichols said. “Even if you can only stay for an hour, your help is needed.”
If you haven’t volunteered in that capacity before, there will be several experienced Dawsonians to help “show you the ropes,” according to the BBQ committee.
Dusty Vinson, a member of the community center’s Board of Directors, will lead that behind-the-scenes effort.
“Come help us — I’ll be there bright and early with coffee and donuts,” said Vinson.
Just as in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, those volunteers shredding the meat will be expected to wear face coverings. Tables will be socially distanced as well.
After a hiatus in 2020, the street fair will make a return to the BBQ festivities. It will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. downtown in the square along Railroad Avenue. The street fair will feature 25 games and vendors, inflatables for younger attendees, and wagon rides. The band Instant Zeal, with ties to Dawson Springs, will also be performing.
Those attending the street fair, which in modern tradition has become the peak time for fellowship, are encouraged to bring a lawn chair. Children can enjoy jumping on the inflatables at a cost of $5 for an armband pass. The wagon rides, co-sponsored by Mike Dickerson, are $1 per child and $2 for each adult.
Each year, the raffle conducted by the Dawson Springs Rotary Club has the potential to bring in the most money to keep the community center afloat. This year is no exception, with the Rotarians boasting three pages of prizes donated by local businesses.
The Hopkins County Tourism and Convention Commission is sponsoring the raffle’s grand prize of $500 cash. Each raffle ticket is $1 and can be purchased at the community center during lunch or during the street fair. The drawing will begin at 8:30 p.m. and will be streamed live on the Dawson Springs Area Chamber & Main Street Program’s Facebook page. You do not have to be present to win the grand prize.
“Every dime goes to the community center,” said Nichols. “Buy the meat — this is a heritage we’re doing for our kids — and tradition is a good thing.”
Other events held over the course of BBQ weekend which also raise funds for the community center are:
• the Dawson Springs BBQ 5K Run/Walk on Saturday morning. The race will start at 7:30 a.m. (incorrectly listed as 8:00 on the promotional flyers) at the Dawson Springs Community Center. On-site registration begins at 6:30 a.m. Registration is $25 and includes “the best 5K shirt in West Kentucky,” according to Donnie Dunbar, organizer of the 5K.
Those registering the day of the race will receive their shirt at a later date.
The 5K is a scenic run/walk through Historic Dawson Springs with overall awards for the top male and female competitors to cross the finish line, as well as the top three male and female participants to finish in nine age divisions.
• the Dawson Springs BBQ Golf Tournament on Saturday, beginning at 8 a.m., at the course located at Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park. Due to low registrations, the deadline to register has been extended.
“Folks, I need golfers,” said Darla Adams, a member of the community center’s Board of Directors. “If you’re a golfer or a friend of a golfer, please sign up.”
Today and Friday, you can register by calling the pro shop at 270-797-7888. You can also sign-up in-person at 7:30 a.m. the morning of the tournament. The tourney is a “luck of the draw” three or four-person scramble and costs $60 to enter. Cash prizes will be awarded to first and second place. Entrants are also eligible to win an assortment of door prizes.
• the BBQ Festival Car show on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. downtown on the square. David Thorp, organizer of the monthly installments of Dawson Springs Cars & Coffee, and his team of volunteers will be hosting the car show this year, which features vendors, BBQ, and a half-pot drawing. The People’s Choice and Mayor’s Choice of vehicles will be awarded. The half-pot will benefit the Dawson Springs Marching Panther Band.
While you’re in town this weekend, other traditional BBQ-inspired happenings of note are:
• School Days exhibit at the Dawson Springs Museum & Art Center on Friday from 1 to 4 p.m.
• breakfast on Saturday and Sunday at the Clifty Creek Restaurant located at Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park from 7 to 10 a.m. each morning. Lunch is served at Clifty Creek from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with dinner from 4 to 8 p.m. Buffets will be featured both days to accommodate all of the reunion traffic that BBQ weekend typically brings to the resort.