One of Northeast Arkansas’ benchmark festivals has been cancelled. The Jonesboro BBQ Fest will not be held this year, festival chairman Tim McCall said on Monday (July 6).
Organizers cited the multiple effects of COVID-19 and the challenges of a free event that lacks controlled entrances and exits. The festival, slated for September, is simply unworkable, McCall said.
“We have spent time on several conference calls and presentations with other festival leaders in the state, and we believe preparing a safe place for participants and volunteer workers could jeopardize public safety,” McCall said.
The BBQ Fest has become Jonesboro’s signature fall festival since its 2009 inception as a celebration of the city’s sesquicentennial, when Mayor Harold Perrin envisioned an annual event that would bring free entertainment and fun to downtown.
A&P Commission President Jerry Morgan said additional state-mandated safety requirements make the event cost-prohibitive.
“We also feel like it is in the best interest of the taxpayers as we have seen an unfortunate and unprecedented decline in hotel tax revenue that directly funds this event,” Morgan said.
With the efforts of A&P, Downtown Jonesboro Alliance, Ritter Communications, and a group of volunteers led by McCall and Jack Turner, the event became sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society and draws BBQ competitors from around the world. The downtown concerts expanded last year to two nights and attracts thousands.
Perrin said he is disappointed, but agrees with the decision to delay the festival until next year.
“We’ve had to accept a lot of losses in 2020 and this just one of them,” Perrin said. “We are a resilient community and we must continue to be until this scourge is eliminated. I look forward to the next BBQ Fest. It will be the best ever.”
The event draws an estimated 50,000 or more visitors to the downtown Jonesboro area. It’s typically held on a Friday and Saturday. Bands such as Fuel and Smash Mouth have headlined the celebration in the past.
Local officials don’t have finite numbers when it comes to the total economic impact the festival has had in the city. Jonesboro Association Executive Director Lindsey Wingo previously told Talk Business & Politics that it probably impacts the local economy by several million dollars.