With more than 20 incredible bands offered on stage ranging from the Grammy-nominated Avett Brothers to the five-piece American bluegrass/rock band Greensky Bluegrass, Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que & Music Festival gets better each and every year.
When Cathy Varnadore came up with the idea of Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que & Music Festival several years ago to honor the legacy of her late father, Joe Pond, she wanted to create an event that showcased his love of live bluegrass music, down-home barbecue cooking and, most importantly, family.
Today, it’s clear Varnadore and her dedicated team at A.B. Beverage Company, Inc. have succeeded in putting together a music festival that would make “Papa Joe” Pond extremely proud.
“Oh, my dad would love this festival. He would absolutely love it,” said Varnadore, president of A.B. Beverage. “I remember, as kids, he would take us to different festivals throughout Georgia and South Carolina. We would end up in some small town and they would be playing bluegrass music or sometimes he would take us to these shag music events, which were fun, too. My dad pretty much took us everywhere and exposed us to a lot of good, family fun events and that is what we are trying to do here.”
This weekend’s two-day festival at Evans Towne Center Park will continue that tradition by showcasing an impressive lineup of bands, including the return of the festival’s headliner, The Avett Brothers.
The Avett Brothers are known for high-energy shows and playing intense gigs featuring sibling musicians Scott and Seth Avett.
Other bands featured in this year’s festival include Greensky Bluegrass, Banditos, The Defibulators, Natchez Tracers, Cicada Rhythm, Hog Slop String Band, Harvest Thieves, Niles Foley, Kyshona Armstrong, Little Roy & Lizzie, Sailing to Denver, The Mason Jars, The Ramblin’ Fevers, Delta Cane, Royal Johnson, The High Divers, Laney Jones & the Spirits, Villain Family, Porter Oaks and West King String Band.
There is a great deal of excitement over Greensky Bluegrass’ appearance at this year’s Banjo-B-Que & Music Festival.
Formed in 2000 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Greensky Bluegrass have “fine tuned” their live show to brilliantly blend bluegrass music with a full-on spectacle of rock.
“You can call us an acoustic ensemble, or a drum-less rock band, or a rock & roll bluegrass band,” the band’s mandolin player, Paul Hoffman, stated on Greensky Bluegrass’ website. “All of that shifting identity has taught us to cover a lot of ground… It’s a balance of moods and textures that we create as a band.”
“We play two sets of music every night with a big light show, and really care about creating a large scale production,” Bruzza stated. “We want to cultivate an experience, where people can escape from their everyday lives for a minute and put their worries aside.”
For those at A.B. Beverage who work extremely hard each year organizing Banjo-B-Que, Varnadore said she simply wants the community to have a lot of fun listening to the incredible live music, eating the down home barbecue, enjoying craft beers in the beer garden and letting the entire family participate in the festival’s petting zoo, pony rides, pig races and cook-offs.
“We want to bring bands through here that are new and different and try to get more exposure for this area,” Varnadore said. “We work hard all year long to make sure this is an event that the entire community can be proud of. And it is fun to have two different aspects in the event with the music and the barbecue, especially it being Memorial Day weekend.”
As always, Banjo-B-Que will continue to be a family affair this year with her husband and vice president of A.B. Beverage, Doug Varnadore, concentrating on barbecue side of the two-day festival.
The festival, which is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, will bring more than 60 professional barbecuers from all across the country.
“The professional teams will come from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Indiana,” Doug Varnadore said. “We’ve probably got five or six of the top 10 of the Kansas City Barbeque teams here at the festival. So, it’s some pretty stiff competition.”
Those professionals will compete for $40,00 in prizes money and, this year, the festival was selected as a recipient of the Smoking with Smithfield grant program. That will increase the prize payouts, and representatives from Smithfield will conduct cooking demos at Tuffy Stone at 1, 3:30 and 4 p.m., as well as give out free rib samples cooked by Waylon’s BBQ.
There will be much more for the kids to enjoy including the new Pork Chop Revue and the Hog Way Speedway. The Pork Chop Revue features amazing stunts and laughable antics by the smartest swine in the country, and the Hog Way Speedway will be an opportunity for families to watch pigs, ducks and goats battle it out for the title of fastest farm animal. Along with these new attractions, there will be plenty more of activities for the kids to enjoy including a petting zoo, face painting, splash pad and playground, and much more!
For the adults, the festival’s beer garden will feature beers from breweries all over the country, including Breckinridge Brewery, Hi Wire Brewing, Devil’s Back Bone Brewing Co., Elysian Brewing Company, Grayton Beer Company, Lonerider Brewing Co., Nantahala Brewing Co., Prairie Artisan Ales, Southern Brewing Co. and Southern Tier, as well as local breweries River Watch Brewery and Savannah River Brewing Co.
“There will be over 40 craft beers from the newest to the oldest,” Doug Varnadore said. “It is a great selection.”
One of the proudest moments for the Varnadore family at the annual music festival is when Joe Pond’s grandchildren take the stage on Saturday night.
“They all get to go up on stage and introduce the last act on Saturday night,” Cathy Varnadore said. “They have a lot of fun doing that. It’s nice because they all come down and they’ll all be there together.”
All proceeds raised at Banjo-B-Que benefit the Joseph R. Pond Memorial Foundation, which donates to charitable organizations through the CSRA Community Foundation.
A special focus is given to cancer-related organizations because “Papa Joe” Pond, who was a second generation owner of A.B. Beverage, died in 2006 after a seven-year fight against cancer.
“We wanted to do something in his name because he did so much in the community,” Cathy Varnadore said. “He always sponsored so many events and charities throughout the CSRA and we just wanted to remember him that way.”