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North Liberty festival moved to July

Blues train arrives later this year
Craig Erickson takes the stage with the FunkDaddies during last year’s Blues & BBQ festival in North Liberty. The FunkDaddies will return as the headliner this year, but the festival has been scheduled to take place July 12 in an attempt to avoid the unpredictable weather event organizers have experienced the last few years. (Leader file photo by Lori Lindner)

NORTH LIBERTY– It’s the same hot party with the same cool vibe.
It’s just happening a little later this year.
The North Liberty Blues & BBQ festival planners held a press conference last week to announce the event’s lineup and activities, with its biggest changes being the move away from its traditional Memorial Day weekend date, and a brand new location.
This year’s festival is scheduled for Saturday, July 12, from noon until 10 p.m., and will be held in Centennial Park near the corner of Jones Boulevard and St. Andrews Drive in North Liberty.
South Slope Cooperative Communications returns as title sponsor for the eighth annual event, which started in 2007 as a way to invite the community to enjoy the completion of Liberty Centre Park, in the heart of the growing city.
“It’s a great opportunity for South Slope to get involved in the community and be out there with our customers,” said Blues committee member Meredith King. “It’s also a wonderful way to showcase the North Liberty area.
Attendance that first year was an estimated 1,500 people, most from within the community of North Liberty.
Despite two years of bad weather– once when the festival was stormed out and rescheduled for July, and last year, when the day was cut short by pervasive heavy rains– attendance has grown each year. This year, festival committee chair Nick Bergus said, the committee is hoping the move to July will bring better weather and about 10,000 people.
“A Midwestern spring is sometimes really great, and sometimes not so great,” said Bergus. “We’ve had a lot of success with big events in July. Last year (the city) had the (centennial) birthday bash, which was well received and we had gorgeous weather. We hope this will help with the weather and avoid some of those conflicts we’ve run into on Memorial weekend, with people traveling and high school graduations.”
As the festival has progressed, it has outgrown its original venue as well. The city purchased 40 acres on the west edge of town in 2009, and began its first phase of development last year, in part to become the new home for North Liberty Blues & BBQ.
“Right now it’s a lot of grass and a little bit of parking,” said Bergus. “People will be able to come out and see what this new park is going to be about. That’s why we invited (architectural design firm) Shive-Hattery to be part of the festival. They’ve been helping us plan that space, which is going to be a wonderful park with a lot of green space, some play features and eventually a built-in stage.”
Shive-Hattery will be one of the participants in the new arts activity center offered for kids this year, said King.
“We are thrilled to be hosting a few new nonprofits in the lineup that will help with children’s activities during the day,” she said, including the Everyday Arts Pavilion.
The emphasis on the arts– music, visual and creative– has been a tenet of the Blues & BBQ festival from the beginning, Bergus noted.
“The arts focus is a niche that is not filled by other festivals in town,” he said. “The Everyday Arts Pavilion is an opportunity for kids to interact with some local nonprofits as they put on arts-inspired activities under a large, shaded oasis.” Some of those groups include the UNESCO City of Literature, the North Liberty Food Pantry, Iowa City’s STEAM Room Fab Lab, and others. Shive Hattery will be conducting an activity to demonstrate park planning at a level intriguing to children.
Besides being arts-focused, the festival also maintains its commitment to regional vendors, artists and organizations. The musical lineup this year includes the Curtis Hawkins band, the Funkdaddies, and perennial Blues guest Kevin Burt.
“We have regional and local favorites who are really good and we are really proud of,” said Bergus. “That Iowa focus is seen throughout the festival. Our craft beer is from Iowa. This is a community and Iowa-centric festival.”
And community-supported as well, Bergus added. In addition to the support from many local businesses and title sponsor South Slope, the University of Iowa Community Credit Union is sponsoring the main stage, State Farm’s Adam Schechinger is sponsoring food vendor alley, and MidWest One Bank will help with the information and volunteer gazebo. The Eastern Iowa Airport is joining in this year to put on a fireworks spectacular at day’s end.
“That support from community minded businesses allows us to put on a really sizable event for free,” Bergus said. “They lend manpower when they have their employees come out and volunteer, they give us financial support and they give us in-kind support. Those are all really key to being able to do something like this. Except for the cost of food and drink, you can come out and have a really great time without having to spend a nickel.”
Manpower is still needed, though. The festival takes about 200 volunteers to put on, and Bergus encouraged anyone interested to visit the event website at northlibertyblues.org to sign up for one of the many opportunities to be involved.
Whether volunteering or not, he also invited everybody to come to the festival and have a great time.
“We really do have something for everybody,” Bergus said. “If you are a young family with kids, we have stuff for you to do and have a lot of fun for free. If you want to sit outside, enjoy the weather and drink a good beer and eat good food, we’ve got that. If you want to come and dance to really good blues music, we’ve got that. If you want an excuse to just ride your bike somewhere, we’ve got that too. So we can hit all of those and bring a ton of people together.”