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Sun shines on NL’s 2015 festival

The live music brought crowds to their feet throughout the day at North Liberty Blues & BBQ festival held July 11 at North Liberty’s Centennial Park. (photo by Lori Lindner)

NORTH LIBERTY– The barbecue pits and jamming musicians weren’t the only hot things at North Liberty’s annual Blues & BBQ festival this year.
Finally; the sun was warm, too.
It’s been awhile since the annual community celebration of summer– and all things barbecue, blues and family-friendly fun– has enjoyed a day without stormy weather. In 2011, 2013 and 2014, storms and heavy rains interfered enough with the grounds and equipment to cause the festival to be cancelled or called off early.
This year, on Saturday, July 11, though the skies were once again crying in the morning, clouds broke around noon and brought sunshine and good vibrations over North Liberty’s Centennial Park the rest of the day.
About 11,000 guests came out to share in the event, enjoying a wide array of food and activities in addition to the musicians on the main stage and side stage under the beverage tent. Along the Adam Schechinger State Farm Food Vendor Alley, chefs cooked up everything from kettle corn, frozen yogurt and steamed dumplings to smoky barbecued favorites, like pork sandwiches, jerk chicken, and saucy, savory ribs. The winner of this year’s BBQ Cook-Off was chosen through votes cast by the crowd, and the most popular– by just two votes– was Rube’s BBQ of Mechanicsville.
Also on tap was the cold craft beer flowing from the Veridian Credit Union Beverage Garden. With 11 different brews from Iowa brewers, craft beer fans helped to empty about 50 kegs of craft beer that day, noted Nick Bergus, Blues & BBQ committee chair.
The choices for family-friendly fun were also many; with inflatable rides, Miller’s Petting Zoo and the Shive-Hattery Everyday Arts Pavilion– with many different hands-on craft and literature activities– all in full swing, kids found lots of entertainment throughout the day.
Adults had as much fun with their entertainment coming from the University of Iowa Community Credit Union main stage.
Returning for his ninth annual Blues & BBQ was Kevin “B.F.” Burt, this year accompanied by the Big Medicine Trio, slinging out the home-style blues to an appreciative crowd. Early in the day, Matt Panek and the Electric Koolaid Trio kicked off the music, followed by Burt. Later, Hector Anchondo, winner of Nebraska’s state blues challenge, took the stage, and wrapping up the night was Muscatine’s own, Iowa Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Ernie Peniston and the Ernie Peniston Band.
“The feedback has been very positive from all quarters,” Bergus said. “Blues lovers were pleased with the music and the addition of the side stage, craft beer fans were happy we were able to offer new beers from Firetrucker, Kalona and Lion Bridge, as well as some festival favorites, moms and dads were effusive about the kids’ activities, and everyone was happy with the food.”
The only small setback in an otherwise perfect event came in the form of stiff breezes that caused the planned balloon glow at dusk to be short-lived.
“The photos from the glow are stunning, and the kids loved seeing them inflate,” said Bergus. “Unfortunately, the pilots became a little concerned with the wind. Even anchored to trucks, giant bags of hot air are apparently hard to keep in place in the wind, and were up shorter than we’d hoped.”
North Liberty Blues & BBQ presented by South Slope would not be possible without community involvement, Bergus said. It takes about 200 volunteers to make the event go smoothly, as well as the financial support and manpower supplied by local businesses.
“I’m grateful to them for making this possible. It takes months of planning from a truly dedicated crew to pull off Blues & BBQ, and I’m am deeply grateful to the committee members for all their efforts. It’s amazing to me what Blues & BBQ has grown up to be,” said Bergus.
The event began in 2007as a one-time event for the City of North Liberty to thank the community and showcase Liberty Centre Park after its completion. It was so successful, the festival was reprised and has grown each year since, from about 1,000 attendees in 2007 to well over 11,000 in its ninth year. Originally held over Memorial Day weekend, the festival date was permanently changed to July in order to avoid unpleasant surprises May’s unpredictable weather continued to bring.
Fortunately, there was no fooling around from Mother Nature this year.
“I know the forecast caused some to cancel their plans to attend, but those that had faith were rewarded with a beautiful day, great music, delicious food and tons to do in a wonderful, vibrant community.”