Denmark Lions bringing big time BBQ contest to western Maine

CREATING ENTHUSIASM — Denmark Lions Club members Sonya and Mark Allen got the idea for a nationally-sanctioned world-class barbecue competition on a snowy Sunday afternoon while watching the cooking channel do a show on BBQ festivals.

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

DENMARK — If there’s one thing the Denmark Lions Club knows how to do, it’s create enthusiasm. The small club, with a core group of around a dozen and just 40 total members, has a knack for rallying its members and town volunteers to take on seemingly impossible projects.

Along with the Lions Club’s commitment to provide scholarships, support sight programs, and local services and organizations, the club has built ball fields, tennis courts, a playground and a town dock. In 2005, working with the Denmark Arts Center, the club raised $170,000 to create a beautiful waterfront Bicentennial Park in the downtown.

Sharing Lionism

Now, led by Mark and Sonya Allen, the club is inviting other Lions Clubs in Maine to participate in the first-ever Western Maine BBQ Festival, sponsored by Hannaford Supermarkets, to be held Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24 at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds.

The festival will provide booth space for BBQ-themed fundraising ideas for Lions Clubs from around Maine to raise money for their own communities; so far, Lions Clubs in Bridgton, Harrison, Naples, Fryeburg, Brownfield and Falmouth have signed up, along with the Freeport Lioness’s and of course Denmark. Each club stands to raise a substantial amount of money, as the festival’s main draw will feature Sunday’s Kansas City Barbeque Society competition as seen on the Discovery Channel, TLC or the Food Network, as well as a New England Barbeque Society grilling competition on Saturday.

Along with the big smokers and backyard barbecue enthusiasts, the festival will have plenty of other entertainment going on throughout the weekend. There’ll be a classic car show by the Harrison Lions Club on Saturday, sponsored by Macdonald Motors, a motorcycle show on Sunday, sponsored by L-A Harley-Davidson, live music all weekend on two stages, sponsored by Poland Spring, mechanical bull riding, a children’s play center, sponsored by True Value Hardware, artisans and crafters, and demonstrations on grilling, smoking and BBQ judging as well as fly fishing, archery and even beer making by Bridgton Lion and Planning Board Chairman Steve Collins.

Barbecue, low and slow

The BBQ teams that will come from across the northeast to show off their low and slow cooking skills aren’t there to sell their creations; they’re there to win. But for a small fee, the People’s Choice event will allow anyone to be a judge and sample BBQ fare. The Kansas City Barbeque Society competition consists of four categories: chicken, ribs, pulled pork and brisket that can be judged only by certified judges on appearance, taste, and texture.

There’ll be barbecue for sale, of course. Jacked Up BBQ of Forked River, N.J., and Crazy Dave’s Pit BBQ of Belfast have been selected to provide world-class barbecue to festival-goers.

With up to 50 teams competing for $12,500 in prize money and the chance to qualify for the American Royal Championship, the two-day family festival is expected to draw as many as 10,000 people. “People from all walks of life love to cook and eat BBQ,” said Denmark Lions Club member JoAnne Harbourt.

In March 2010, Mark and Sonya approached six other club members with the idea of organizing a committee to bring competition BBQ to the Fryeburg Fairgrounds to help other Lions Clubs make money. The Organization Committee has met regularly since that time. Mark and Sonya were honored in 2009 by Lions Clubs International with the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award, the highest form of recognition embodying the humanitarian ideas of Lionism — working for the betterment of their communities and the world at large. The Allens say they are simply passing the torch given them by elder members who have made the Denmark Lions Club the success it has become.

Start thinking 10,000

At first, members thought the competition would draw three or four thousand people at most; but after talking to sponsors familiar with the nationally-sanctioned contests, “The sponsors said, ‘you guys are underestimating this whole thing. Start thinking about 10,000 people instead,’” Harbourt said.

The reason is, competition barbecue is big business. TV has done much to popularize the sport, and barbecue teams come from all over to compete for bragging rights and the chance at prize money that can total $100,000 for some big-city competitions.

Gates will open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Cost is $5 a person, and free for children under 10. Parking is also free, and there will be a nominal fee for some activities.

The Denmark Lions Club has plenty of opportunities for everyone, not just Lions Club members, to become involved as volunteers at the festival. They have a big vision of creating a festival that is a “must do” activity for New England families and Maine visitors, on a par no less than such summer festivals as the Yarmouth Clam Festival and the Rockland Lobster Festival. And if the weather cooperates, with the world-class venue of the Fryeburg Fairgrounds as a backdrop, they might just have a shot.

To become involved, or for more details on the schedule and participating vendors and entertainers, or forming a team or becoming a judge, visit www.westernmainebbqfestival.com, or call Sonya Allen at 647-4449.

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