The Hogs and Hops Festival is turning out to be the little festival that could. Following last year's inaugural success, organizers ramped up this year with Kansas City Barbeque Society approval, a larger venue, more vendors, more food and more drinks.
The second year of a festival depends on the first. All the numbers have to be high, from attendance and profits to post-event reviews, in order to pull off a sophomore appearance.
All of that fell into place last year for the Hogs and Hops Festival, held on the grounds of Fordham and Dominion Brewing Company. The event, which featured 26 barbecue teams, lots of locally crafted beer, live music and regional craftsmen and women wound up exceeding the expectations of its organizers.
Event chairman Mark Hoffman was especially pleased. The dismal, rainy weather didn't chase anybody away and the inaugural event, also a fundraiser, went off without a hitch.
"We had zero issues," Hoffman said. "No problems whatsoever. No fights. Nobody had to be kicked out. It was great."
A great first-year festival does have one problem, though. How do organizers top it and keep people interested? Hoffman said he has a plan for that, too, which he kicked into gear just as things were wrapping up last year.
A lot of things are different this year, from the venue to the barbecue competition to the entertainment. One thing will remain the same, though.
"We wanted it to feel like a big backyard barbecue," Hoffman explained. "So, we've made sure to expand on activities and interests that will appeal to every member of the family.
Here's what to expect:
1 Change of address
Pre-sale tickets were decent last year but organizers didn't know what to expect. Then, 2,000 people showed up to join 26 barbecue teams and 35 vendors for the area's first big barbecue-cooking competition.
"Because of the huge turnout last year, we thought it would be best to relocate to the Delaware State Fairgrounds," Hoffmam said. "The larger venue will give everybody room to enjoy all the things we've added this year."
2 Bragging rights get real this year
Last year, two dozen barbecue competitors grilled, sauced and rubbed their way towards prize money and local bragging rights. However, most grillers —professional and backyard — know that the real bragging rights come from a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned competition.
"They regulate the competitions, send professional organizers to each event and winners of KCBS events are invited to the American Royal World Championships," Hoffman explained. "Even with just one year under our belt, we managed to get sanctioned for this year so we're really excited."
There's more, though. The Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association will present a new award at Hogs and Hops: Delaware Team of the Year. The event also obtained an official proclamation from Gov. Jack Markell earlier this year, certifying Hogs and Hops as a Delaware State Championship barbecue event.
The official proclamation means that next year, the winner of Hogs and Hogs will square off against the winner of the Middletown BBQ Cook-off in a coin-toss of sorts to see who represents the state in the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, Tenn.
3 Beyond the meat
Hoffman said they were pleasantly surprised by all the families that attended last year and really wanted to grow that aspect of the event this year. They reached out to Dover Macaroni Kid/BK Rentals for a partnership that will revamp the "Funzone."
Free activities for children include the inflatable bounce houses and slides as well as face painting. Low cost activities (for all ages) will include a mechanical bull, bungee run, rock-climbing wall, bungee trampolines and cornhole tournaments.
The shopping area has also been expanded to include more than 50 vendors from all over the region, from "jewelry to arts and crafts to everything in between."
4 Washing the barbecue down
Hogs and Hops will once again partner with Dover's own Fordham/Old Dominion Brewery.
"We have selected 12 varieties of brews and we will have 30 taps running to keep lines and wait times to a minimum," Hoffman said. "We'll also have Old Dominion Root Beer on tap for free for anyone who doesn't or can't drink beer."
Other drink options include the new Painted Stave Distillery from Smyrna and wine from Fenwick Wine Cellars on Fenwick Island.
5 The festival soundtrack
Like every other aspect of this year's festival, the music choices are bigger this year, too. Organizers are bringing in a professional stage and sound system so that visitors can fully enjoy Delaware natives Love Seed Mama Jump and up-and-coming country music star Tyler Tolliver.
"Tyler is a former marine and a great guy. He has a new CD that's starting to take off, so it's going to be neat in three or four years when he really hits it big," Hoffman said. "And, Love Seed Mama Jump just goes hand in hand with every Delaware event, right?"
Cowboy Up will provide a deejay in between sets, as well.
6 Making the most of the day
Hoffman said that they encourage all festival goers to bring lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy the concerts and stay comfortable. Small coolers for water and kids' snacks will also be allowed. However, outside alcohol is not permitted and all coolers are subject to search.
7 It's not just fun, it's a fundraiser
"The money we raise is going to help our 'officer in distress fund,' so if an officer or a firefighter is killed or severely injured in the line of duty, this fund assists with helping the individual or family with their transitions," Hoffman said. "It could be used for college tuition, things insurance doesn't cover or home renovations and handicap upgrades."
BONUS—ADVICE COURTESY OF THE HOGS & HOPS FACEBOOK PAGE:
1. All tickets, except VIP, will be available at the gate. Our capacity is 6,000. While we aren't expecting that many, we certainly blew expectations out of the water last year. So come early to ensure you get in!
2. When you enter the main entrance to the fairgrounds, go straight back and you will see parking signs with arrows. Parking is on the practice horse track.
3. The nearest ATM is in the casino. Most food vendors and some other vendors will take plastic, but it's best to bring cash. Only cash will be taken at the gate and at the beer ticket sales booth.
4. The Health Department WILL NOT allow the BBQ teams to give samples this year...we know...that stinks! But they have their rules! Feel free to walk through the competition site, but keep in mind the teams are on strict time limits and under a lot of pressure-so don't distract them. After 2: 30p.m., most teams are more than willing to talk about their cookers and answer questions but from 12 to 3 p.m., it's all business. There's $4,000 up for grabs!
5. Our bartenders are volunteering their time, so show them some love with a tip now and then.
6. Everybody will get a cup when they enter-it's yours for the whole event. Replacements/extras are $1.00 each.
7. Growlers will be sold at the Fordham merchandise tent, and will cost 5 beer tickets ($14) to fill. VIP ticket holders can bring their own growlers and fill them since they have the unlimited beer option.
8. The event is outdoors, rain or shine.