De Soto Riverfest Park, blues and BBQ successes
De Soto Chamber of Commerce President Dave Moore said he got affirmation of the weekend’s blues and barbecue success while watching the fireworks display at the end of the concert.
“I was standing between two musicians from Kelley Hunt’s band,” he said Monday. “They said, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ Kelley Hunt’s manager Al Berman called me this morning to say it was the best and most enjoyable show they had done all year, and they play everywhere.”
Praise was pretty much universal for the job the De Soto Chamber of Commerce did in organizing the first combined blues festival and barbecue contest and for De Soto Riverfest Park. Moore and chamber director Sara Ritter said much of the credit should go to the many volunteers who manned the admission gates, beer garden, T-shirt stand and helped with the barbecue contest.
Ritter said many of the teams in the barbecue contest had already requested the same spots for next year’s event.
“That tells me they must have been happy with it,” she said. “All the barbecue people seemed to be really happy with the new venue.”
It was better than Zimmerman's Kill Creek Farm, where space was so limited, said Larry Witt of the Sodbusters team.
Darrel Zimmerman started the barbecue contest on his farm in 2004, but handed it over to the chamber last year after it threatened to grow too big for him to manage.
“I heard rave reviews from the cooking teams,” Zimmerman said of the new contest and new venue.
He spoiled the teams by giving them free water and electricity at campsites, Zimmerman said. The chamber continued that and provide free goodies to all teams, he said.
The number of teams was limited to 40 this year but will grow to 60 in 2009. The growth could make the chamber’s job easier.
“More teams will attract more and larger sponsors,” he said. “Grill manufactures, charcoal companies, groceries stores all sponsor these events.”
Mike Martin of De Soto, who participated in his first barbecue contest, said he was also impressed with the venue even though as an employee for Freeman Concrete, which did the concrete work at the park, he knew its general design.
“It looks great,” he said.
Musicians praised the sound system made possible by a $7,000 donation from Mr. Goodcent’s, Ritter said.
“We wanted it to be professional as the first event in the park, and it was,” she said.
Friends and family members of barbecue teams helped push attendance beyond expectations Friday when the chamber sold out the 1,000 wristbands given to those passing through the gates. Saturday’s attendance was not quite as good as anticipated, perhaps because of backups from traffic accidents on Kansas Highway 10 after the Kansas University football game discouraged people from attending, Ritter said.
But no one was complaining about the success of the event. Ritter said money was still being put in the bank and bills paid. The chamber made money, but it would be later this week before she knew how much.
Vendors at the park also reported good sales. The local Cub Scout’s booth did very well, said its organizer Stephanie Tacley.
“We were very well,” she said. ‘We were the only one that sold BBQ sandwiches.
“The park is beautiful.”
As he walked Friday between the campsites of barbecue teams, chamber member Charley Vogt said Riverfest Park’s double row of vendor sidewalks made it easier to get around than at other barbecue contests he had attended. The park was accessible enough that several people were making the rounds in wheelchairs, he observed.
City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle, who worked as a volunteer at the event’s beer garden, said he was surprised Monday with how little garbage needed to be picked up and how few ruts vehicles left in the park’s grass.
Ritter said the organizing committee would meet in about two weeks to evaluate the event and attempt to address any problems. It will also mark the start of planning for the 2009 event, she said.
“We think the money we made this year will help us be more self-sufficient,” she said.
Guilfoyle said chamber representatives and those of with the De Soto Days Festival will be invited to the next De Soto Parks and Recreation Commission to explain their needs and the complexities of putting on a large event.
The park board has taken on the role of developing future events for Riverfest Park and vetting proposals for major events there.