Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues Fest got rolling in 2010, spurred by a suggestion from Darrell and Pat Pennington, at the time members of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
The chamber was looking for a fundraiser because it needed a way to support scholarships, chamber programs and local causes, Pat Pennington recalled. The couple had gone to a barbecue in Lakeland, and while they were there, it occurred to them that it was something the chamber could do in Zephyrhills.
So, the couple suggested the idea at the next board meeting and the board embraced it. The event has continued to evolve ever since.
The first year, it drew 13 barbecue teams. This year, event organizers hope there will be 35 to 40 teams. Those teams will chase after $8,000 in prize money, trophies, bragging rights and the chance to compete at higher-level barbecue competitions.
This year’s event also will introduce a number of new elements, said Vonnie Mikkelsen, executive director of the Zephyrhills chamber. For one thing, the venue has changed. The new home for the event is Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, 39450 South Ave., in Zephyrhills.
By hosting the event, the city will have a chance to showcase its airport, airport manager Michael Handrahan said.
Besides being able to buy tasty barbecue and listen to bands, patrons will have a chance to check out interesting aircraft, listen to a talk by a teenage glider pilot, and tour the Zephyrhills Museum of Military History, Handrahan said.
Patrons won’t have access to the airfield itself and there won’t be any flying events, the airport manager said. But there’s a chance some pilots will fly in for the day. That’s because the airport is encouraging pilots to fly in to enjoy some barbecue and music.
Since its inception, Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues, has been a fundraiser, providing thousands of dollars for local youth and education programs, including the YMCA of East Pasco, Zephyrhills Fire Rescue Explorers, Zephyrhills Police Athletic League, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Charities, the Zephyrhills Army JROTC, Zephyrhills High School athletics and clubs, and the chamber scholarship fund.
The event is designed to be a fun day for families, while providing a legitimate contest for barbecue aficionados.
The annual contest has been sanctioned by the Florida Barbecue Association since 2011, and has been designated as a state championship contest since 2012. The grand champion of the professional division qualifies to compete at the American Royal Nationals in Kansas City, Mo., and gets in the draw from the state for the Jack Daniel’s World Championship in Lynchburg, Tenn. The contest is open to professional and backyard teams. Entry fees are $300 for the pros and $200 for the backyard teams.
Besides lip-smacking barbecue, the festival offers music from four live blues bands, a classic car and motorcycle show and a kids’ fun zone, featuring bounce houses and field games, as well as arts and crafts.
Another change this year is the admission charge.
In previous years, event-goers paid $5 to get in, with free admission for children under 12. This year, there is no charge to get in, but parking is $10.
Also different from before is the timing. In the past, the barbecue contest was in October. Now it’s in January, and changing the date has many benefits, Mikkelsen said.
For one thing, it allows the community to welcome a group of residents who were unable to attend the event in previous years, she said.
“We found that a lot of our seasonal residents who come down in November and December were always disappointed to find out that they had missed it,” Mikkelsen said.
Pennington thinks the snowbirds will enjoy being able to eat some barbecue and take their time on the airport grounds, strolling around to take a look at the aircraft and to visit the museum.
The barbecue meals are affordable, too, Pennington said, selling for as little $7 and sandwiches for around $3.
Organizers had another good reason for changing the date of the event, Mikkelsen said. In October, many events are competing for people’s time, attention and resources. While that may be fun for residents, it’s challenging for an event organizer who is trying to raise money because they are competing for sponsors, volunteers and patrons.
While the festival is just a one-day event, planning begins a full year ahead of time, Mikkelsen said. About six months before the event, the committee volunteers start organizing and accepting areas of responsibility.
“You’re looking for sponsors,” Mikkelsen said. “You’re looking for in-kind donations. You’re starting to put together your marketing campaign. You’re starting to do the initial budget projection and fitting all of the pieces together.”
That’s also when the blues bands are selected.
“Then you start rolling into the crunch time, which is 90 days out. You better have your permits done,” Mikkelsen said, noting health, alcohol and tent permits must be secured.
Organizers also need to get insurance for the event, do a site plan and be sure to address such things as water, electrical, trash, security, portable restrooms, stages, parking and other issues that must be addressed to carry off a successful event.
Much of the success of the event hinges on the help that the chamber gets from community partners, Mikkelsen said. Some sponsors have been there from the beginning, like CenterState Bank.
“We sell Pig Bucks. That’s the event currency,” Mikkelsen said. “We have to print up so many Pig Bucks and have them counted, bundled and prepared — just like a bank — for the vendors.”
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Posse also has been there since the beginning, Pennington said, managing the event parking.
Anyone wishing additional information about this year’s event is welcome to call (813) 782-1913, email , or visit ZephyrhillsChamber.org.
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