With more than 20 incredible bands squeezed into two days ranging from the Grammy-winning favorite Old Crow Medicine Show to the Grammy-winning, five-piece bluegrass sensation Infamous Stringdusters, Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que & Music Festival gets better each and every year.
It’s hitting Evans Towne Center Park for Memorial Day weekend, May 25 and 26.
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.”
Over the years, Banjo-B-Que has featured a variety of outstanding bands including the Avett Brothers, Drive-By Truckers, The Whiskey Gentry and Old Crow Medicine Show.
This weekend’s two-day festival at Evans Towne Center Park will continue that tradition by showcasing an impressive lineup of bands, including new-to-the-festival Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit.
Isbell, an alt-country Southern rock singer-songwriter and guitarist from Green Hill, Ala., is best known for his solo career, but he also was with the Drive-By Truckers for six years. He is a four-time Grammy winner.
Other bands featured in this year’s festival include The Mason Jars, The 502’s, Front Country, The Whiskey Gentry, John Moreland, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Porter Oaks, Roanoke, Book Club, The Lil Roy & Lizzy Show, The War & Treaty, Sailing to Denver, The Maggie Valley Band, The Artisanals, The Trongone Band, Great Peacock and the Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
Hope Meadows, the marketing and PR director for Banjo-B-Que, said they’re always excited to have Old Crow Medicine Show back. It’ll be the band’s fifth year playing the festival, which is celebrating its ninth year.
“I think they just enjoy playing at our festival,” Meadows said. “They have a good time; the crowd’s just easygoing and Augusta just loves Old Crow, and they love Augusta, so it’s a good match for ’em.”
For those at A.B. Beverage who work extremely hard each year organizing Banjo-B-Que, Varnadore has 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.”
The festival, which is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, will bring in many professional barbecuers from all across the country.
Those professionals will compete for $40,00 in prize money, and several of the barbecue vendors at the festival also will be participating in the competition, so anyone who goes can taste potentially award-winning barbecue. Meadows said last year, one of the vendors actually won the competition.
“So it was neat for our patrons to be like, ‘Wow, they placed in the KCBS competition, and I got to eat their pulled-pork sandwich,” she said.
Banjo-B-Que is considered among the top barbecue festivals in the nation — so much so, that it was listed in USA Today’s top 10 BBQ Festivals in 2016. It also was listed that year in the travel and lifestyle journalism website Matador Network’s “Top 8 underground music festivals to visit before they go mainstream.”
There will be lots for the kids to enjoy, including the return of the Pork Chop Revue (with stunts and antics by some of the smartest pigs around) and the Swifty Swine (with piggies battling it out in races and swimming). Along with these attractions, there will be plenty of other activities for kids, including a petting zoo, face painting, splash pad and playground, and much more!
For the adults, the festival’s beer garden will feature more than 50 craft beers from local breweries, Georgia breweries and others from all over the country. And food vendors offering more than just barbecue (from hot dogs to pizza to sno-cones, and even vegan options) will be there. Patrons are invited to bring their blankets, chairs and sunscreen and hunker down to enjoy the eats and musical treats.
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,” Varnadore has said. “He always sponsored so many events and charities throughout the CSRA, and we just wanted to remember him that way.”
Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que Music Festival
Evans Towne Center Park
4 – 11 p.m. Fri May 25
10:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. Sat May 26
General admission: $45, Friday; $45, Saturday; $75, weekend pass
VIP: $150, Friday; $200, Saturday; $275, weekend pass
Kids 12 and under: Free with general admission-ticketed adult