New digs for Pigz in Z’Hills this year

Buoyed by new festival grounds, the seventh annual Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues Fest is aiming to become its most successful.

The shindig, now a well-attended staple in Zephyrhills, is set for Jan. 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, 39450 South Ave.

Admission is free, but parking is $10.

Presented by The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, Pigz in Z’Hills features both professional and amateur barbecue competitions, all sanctioned by the Florida BBQ Association. This year, about 50 teams are expected to compete.

The barbecue contest has a total cash purse of $8,000. Winners will be declared in four standard categories: chicken, pork, brisket and ribs.

Don Carlon, of Dan’s Dogs in New Port Richey, mixed barbecue sauce, veggies and sausages on a grill at last year’s Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues Festival. Approximately 50 teams are slated to participate in the event on Jan. 21. (File)

The contest also serves as a qualifier for four prestigious barbecue championship contests: The Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, Tennessee; the American Royal World Series of BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri; the Sonny’s Smokin’ Showdown Invitational in Sanford; and, the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Besides the sweet smell of barbecue wafting through the air, festival-goers can also enjoy a wide lineup of musical acts.

This year’s slate of performers includes: The Betty Fox Band, JP Soars & The Red Hots, The Chuck Riley Band, and Mama’s Batch. Live music is scheduled from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Those with other interests can enjoy children’s activities, a car show, an aviation showcase, access to a military history museum and a business expo.

A key moment at the event is expected at 12:15 p.m. That’s when the National Anthem will be rendered while local skydiver David Strobel jumps in bearing the American flag.

Unlike the prior barbecue festivals, this year’s edition is set in a roomier venue with permanent staging.

Since 2013, the tract of land the chamber had been using at the airport was about 2.5 acres. The new venue spans 14 acres.

Amenities include a 20-by-40 stage, and 50 spaces equipped with water and electric.

The expanded area, too, comfortably accommodates up to 15,000 guests at a time, and will provide easy access and parking along South Avenue.

All of the venue space will be used, officials say.

“It’s going to be huge compared to what we’ve had in the past, and it’s going to be more family friendly,” said Melonie Monson, executive director for The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.

Ultimately, the new venue is expected to help the one-day fest run smoother by creating an improved layout for musicians, vendors and attendees.

Additionally, the new venue helps reduce expenses, including the annual costs to rent a stage and generators, which organizers say have totaled nearly $10,000 in the past.

“Having a permanent venue will allow our event to grow as we see fit, along with helping make planning and set up much easier on the barbecue committee and staff,” Monson said.

Since its inception in 2010, Pigz in Z’Hills has proven to be a financial boon for the community.

Chamber officials say the event has created an economic impact of more than $1.5 million for Zephyrhills.

Of the nearly 30,000 total attendees the past six years, officials estimate that more than half have come from outside the region and state.

Last year’s event, though, saw a sizable decrease in turnout from the prior year.

There were about 7,000 showgoers in 2016, down from nearly 10,000 in 2015.

Still, the chamber reached its revenue goals, and was able to donate $15,000 back to the Zephyrhills community; several local youth and education programs were beneficiaries.

Going forward, the chamber director expects the event to run even more efficiently once organizers determine the most ideal layout for the new festival grounds.

“Obviously, this year, everything’s new. You never know what you’re going to get and you see that something might need to be changed…because of this new venue and the layout,” Monson explained.

“After this year, it’s going to be a lot easier,” she said.

Organizers suggest bringing lawn chairs because of limited seating. No coolers or pets are allowed.

For more information, visit ZephyrhillsChamber.org, or call (813) 782-1913.

Seventh annual Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues
When: Jan. 21, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, 39450 South Ave., Zephyrhills
How much: Admission is free; parking is $10
What: Barbecue teams compete for prizes, blues bands perform, and event-goers can purchase barbecued foods, and check out monster trucks, aircraft displays, other attractions and activities.

Published January 18, 2017

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