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A greener, drier Blues & BBQ

Annual music fest leaves smaller footprint despite record number of attendees
North Liberty residents Jake and Lisa Socwell chow down on some barbecue at the 10th annual North Liberty Blues & BBQ presented by South Slope Cooperative Communications, held Saturday, July 9, at Centennial Park in North Liberty. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

By Shianne Fisher
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– They descended on Centennial Park by the thousands, but dry ground and eco-friendly initiatives made it difficult for them to leave a mark.
An estimated 15,000 people attended North Liberty Blues & BBQ presented by South Slope Cooperative Communications last Saturday, where they enjoyed 13 food vendors, five bands and a host of kid-centered activities.
“It’s all been glowing reviews,” said North Liberty Communications Director Nick Bergus. “We’re really proud of the feedback we’ve gotten.”
Plus, he said, the weather was perfect.
Hovering around 82 degrees and 60 percent humidity, it was more than organizers could’ve asked for to celebrate 10 years of Blues, which historically has been plagued by rain. The event was either called off or cancelled three of the past six years.
None if it could happen, of course, without the many volunteers and sponsors. Bergus said around 300 volunteered this year, with the largest group supporting the eco initiatives– helping attendees sort their leftovers into recyclables, compost and trash at 19 different stations around the 40 acres of greenspace.
Johnson County Refuse picked up over 1,500 pounds of compost and 580 pounds of recyclables from the event, said owner Steve Smith. While the garbage did top out around 2,800 pounds, Smith said a lot of that garbage could have been composted.
“It’s more of a thing of trying to get education to people,” said Smith. “It can and probably will get better.
“It’s a big jump over what we’ve had in the past as far as weights go,” he added.
Of the 70 eco volunteers needed, about half were filled, said North Liberty Community Library Director Jennie Garner. After an unsuccessful try at composting last year, she said the volunteers were necessary to help people put things in the right bins.
“Obviously when you’re at a big event you’re just looking for a trash can,” she said. “I don’t think you can ever get completely away from trash.”
Still, they tried.
Blues required all the vendors to use compostable items from Ecocare Supply, of Coralville, who sold over $4,300 and 60 cases of products for the event, said Ecocare CEO Kaveh Mostafavi.
“Ecocare Supply was honored to be a part of North Liberty’s incredible event and promote our collective effort to reduce its impact on our landfill,” said Mostafavi.
Even the beer cups were compostable, said Garner. And, a lot of those were sold.
The 5,000 ID wristbands ordered were sold out halfway through (volunteers switched to hand marks) and the Iowa Craft Beer tent ran dry around 9 p.m. when headliner St. Paul and the Broken Bones took the stage.
Hailing all the way from Birmingham, Ala., the six-member soul band made North Liberty a stop on its current international tour, playing fan favorites like “Broken Bones & Pocket Change,” as well as songs from its newest album “Half the City,” which was released in 2014. The show lasted until around 10:30 p.m.
Which was when University of Alumni Bob and Ann Brus finally left the party, after spending the entire day at the park. The trip from Chicago was well worth it, they said.
“We thought the whole thing was great,” Bob said. “The way it was set up, just everything about it. It was that much of a benefit that we didn’t have to pay a ticket price to get in.
“We look forward to coming back again,” he added.
They were just two of nearly 4,000 additional visitors this year. Around 11,000 attended the event in 2015, up from 1,000 back when the event started in 2007.
“It’s been great to see it evolve,” said Cory Kent, co-owner of Mosley’s, of Iowa City, one of the event’s food vendors.
Originally on the Blues & BBQ committee, Kent shifted his focus to promoting his restaurant, which opened last year. Despite selling out several items, as did many of the vendors, Mosely’s didn’t take home the best barbecue trophy.
Blues veteran Cynful Smokers, of Iowa City, was the winner of the Best BBQ award by Adam Schechinger State Farm after a narrow loss (two votes) last year.
Mark Wehrle, Cynful co-owner, said they ordered 160 racks of ribs and 100 pounds of brisket, and orders never slowed down.
“I can’t even tell you what time it is,” he joked.
Regardless of the hour, attendees devoured a number of items, including the traditional barbecue as well as snow cones from Kona Ice of Cedar Rapids and pie shakes from Iowa City’s Hamburg Inn.
While adults and kids alike licked their fingers clean of the fare, North Liberty police officers were busy in the Front Porch Playground, wiping ink off hands and feet.
It was a way for kids to “leave their mark,” said a sign on the squad car, which– by late afternoon– was covered in inky hand, finger and footprints.
“It might become a tradition for the department,” said North Liberty Police Chief Venenga. “We touch a lot of lives, and a lot of people touched the car this weekend.”
On Monday, the car still hadn’t been washed off. Venenga said after images of the car were shared on social media, people were coming by the station to take photos.
Kids also enjoyed inflatables and Miller’s Petting Zoo– all the way from Geneseo, Ill.
Bergus said in spite of hosting a national touring act like St. Paul and starting the eco initiatives, the event ran smoothly.
“We’re all one big team,” he added.