Rotorua Weekender

Blues and BBQ a winning combo

Festival organisers already planning return next year


It was three full-on days of people grooving and competitor­s barbecuing up a storm at the inaugural Rotorua Blues & BBQ festival. The festival was held last Friday to Sunday at the Lakefront Village Green, and there was plenty of action for festival-goers to check out.

Bay of Plenty Blues Club secretary Di Riddel says right from the start the event went extremely well, and each day had a great turnout.

“We had some fantastic volunteers and the crowds were really great.”

Di says people who attended enjoyed the bands, and that the local bands were amazing.

She says when the Saturday evening headliner — Australian band 19Twenty — got up on stage, the 500-odd people in the tent were all up dancing.

“There was such energy, the group had everyone off their seats.”

Another highlight was the Fun Day Sunday for kids, which was awesome, she says.

“The whole day was pretty full-on, but absolutely fabulous. The young musicians and bands are so talented, and the prizegivin­g was awesome to watch.

“What was also sweet was the little cook-off competitio­n for the children of chicken legs. A 10-year-old won a barbecue setup, which his father was very happy about.”

Di says while the performanc­es were going throughout the weekend, barbecue competitio­ns were heating up on the other side, and there was even a chilli-eating competitio­n.

“There was plenty for the crowds to do and see . . . I think it did help put Rotorua on the map again in a way, to show we can do these kinds of events in Rotorua.”

She says their Facebook has been going crazy after the event, with people saying how awesome it was and how much they enjoyed it.

“I think people left with a very special feeling, which I think is very important, especially in a music festival. It was just beautiful. We had such fun in our merch tent too, and people supported it very well.”

Di says they are definitely planning to hold the Rotorua Blues & BBQ Festival again next year — “It was such a success that it can’t not be on next year.”

She says they are hoping to rebook 19Twenty for next year and that one if its main funders, the Thermal

Explorer Highway Regional Events Fund, has given a start to further funding.

The barbecue side of the festival was managed by locals Shaun and Alia Branson of Black Label Barbecue.

Alia agrees that the first NZ Blues & BBQ Festival went really well.

“It was so great to see the vision of our group come to life on the green and see people connecting over music and food. Our headline act 19Twenty had everyone up and dancing, and lots of people loved watching the chili-eating contest. I think we will need to make more room for that one next year.”

Throughout the event, festivalgo­ers had the opportunit­y to check out New Zealand’s best pit masters as they competed in two internatio­nally-sanctioned barbecue competitio­ns.

Alia says the barbecue competitio­n teams that travelled from around New Zealand loved being in Rotorua — “Many of them said it was the most fun comp they have been to and [they] can’t wait to come back next year.

“Our winner of the Steak Cook-off was Charlotte Hughes, from the Waikato. The grand champion team for the NZBA competitio­n is ‘More Better Barbecue’ from the Waikato, and the Reserve Grand Champion team is the ‘Cook Cartel’ from West Auckland.

“A personal cool connection there is that Jared Macdonald from More Better Barbecue is one of the judges on Cooks on Fire, and the Cook Cartel is made up of Steven and Mike, who we go head-to-head with in the finale this Thursday night.

“There were two other Cooks on Fire competitor­s there, with Brendon competing in his ‘ Smoking Meat House’ team (and picking up a perfect score of 300 for his brisket) and Greg helping to manage the judging team over the weekend. It was so great to see them all and spend a bit of time reconnecti­ng during the busy festival.” Alia says they are all so pleased with how the festival went.

“We can see people loved it, and have a hunger for it to grow next year.”

■ More photos on page 14.

 ?? ?? Australian band 19Twenty performing at the festival.
Australian band 19Twenty performing at the festival.
 ?? Photos / Di Riddel ?? Kids get among the barbecue action on the Fun Day Sunday.
Photos / Di Riddel Kids get among the barbecue action on the Fun Day Sunday.

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