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Over 15k attend Blues & BBQ

A new look
Jessica Beck, a member of the North Liberty Library Board of Trustees, pours a cold one in the Iowa Craft Beer Tent at the 11th annual North Liberty Blues & BBQ on Saturday, July 8, at Centennial Park in North Liberty. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

NORTH LIBERTY– It was a year of firsts for the highly anticipated North Liberty Blues & BBQ, an annual food and music festival occurring the first Saturday in July.
In its 11th year, the event is still being perfected by its organizing committee to make the day accessible and enjoyable for all.
“As a group, that’s been a big strength of ours, that we’re willing to sit down and take good looks at what worked and what didn’t,” said Nick Bergus, a Blues organizer and communications director for the City of North Liberty. “We’re not afraid of stopping things that don’t work and continuing to refine things that do.”
Whatever they’re doing, it’s clearly working.
It was estimated more than 15,000 attended the festival Saturday, July 8, at Centennial Park in North Liberty– up from the mere 1,000 during its initial year in 2007.
“It was just a little more than last year but we’re pretty happy,” said Bergus.
The festivities actually kicked of Friday night, July 7, with the inaugural Pig & Pint Prelude, a ticketed fundraising buffet started to help keep Saturday’s admission free. Bergus said around 200 attended the community-building dinner, which included performance by blues pianist and Johnson County resident Chase Garrett.
“It was a nice little preview for the following day, a little more chill,” Bergus said. “Some folks have said they just can’t make it out (Saturday) so this is a little bit of an opportunity to get that flavor heading into weekend.”
He said the verdict isn’t officially in but that they’ll likely continue the event in some form or fashion.
They also plan to preserve the newly founded partnership with the North Liberty Community Pantry’s annual Turkey Trot, a road race whose profits benefit the county-wide “Thanksgiving in July” food drive. A couple hundred participants provided enough funds to purchase about 40,000 pounds of food.
“It’s just such a natural partnership,” said Bergus.
He called it an “accidental” thing that happened after Blues was rescheduled from June to July and the Turkey Trot moved to Centennial Park.
“The pantry is about community and it’s about food,” he explained. “And that’s in many ways what Blues & BBQ boils down to as well. Good food and good community.”
Sixteen vendors sold barbecue, fried fish, snow cones and more at the event. The best meal went to Mosley’s of Iowa City, pronounced the 2017 Adam Schechinger State Farm Agent Barbecue Contest winner.
While it’s difficult to determine just how much food was sold, waste collection efforts did allow for the tracking of compost, garbage and recycling produced.
According to Kandy Smith of Johnson County Refuse, 2,500 pounds of compost, 2,000 pounds of garbage and 1,000 pounds of recycling were collected.
“We did really good,” said Smith.
The numbers represent a 1,000-pound increase in compost collected, an 800-pound decrease in garbage generated and about a 400-pound uptick in recycling. It was the second year of the waste-reduction program which stationed volunteers at receptacles to inform attendees where to place their leftover food, trash and compostable dinnerware.
“We learned a lot last year about making it accessible and how best to educate people,” said Bergus. “Our guests came out more educated and expecting to do that.”
Another thing guests will need to get used to is the shuttle service, introduced this year to limit parking on Centennial’s green space, as well as make the event more walkable and bike-friendly.
“We were cautiously optimistic about the shuttles,” Bergus admitted. “But the feedback has been almost all positive.”
The Blues organizing committee contracted with Durham School Services of Iowa City to rent the buses and drivers.
“It was a pretty big investment for us, but making sure folks can get in and out is important,” said Bergus.
The shuttles were set to run to and from the festival from beginning to end, at 10-minute intervals, from North Bend Elementary and the University of Iowa Community Credit Union. But, Bergus said, the buses were actually able to rotate more quickly than expected.
“We think it worked well and as that park develops, we’ll have to figure out how we can continue to do that,” he added.