The fifth annual Whole Hawg Happenin’ Barbecue and Music Fest drew a crowd of an estimated 25,000 people to the downtown area for its barbecue extravaganza that showcased 15 Cobb barbecue restaurants, live entertainment, a beer garden, kid activities and a Kansas City Barbecue Society competition that featured 30 participants from all over the country.
Maryclaire Andres of Marietta, who started the festival with the help of other locals in 2009 and coordinates it annually, said they kicked off the event five years ago with a crowd of about 10,000 but on Sunday, because of the sunny weather and growing popularity of Whole Hawg, they were expecting anywhere between 25,000 and 30,000.
“It’s been fantastic,” she said of this year’s event.
“It’s been better than we could have ever imagined hosting it on the Marietta Square, and the weather was perfect … it was just a great community effort.”
She was also told that sometime before 6 p.m. when the event shut down, all but one vendor sold out of food.
The festival started as a way to celebrate the South’s love of barbecue, in addition to raising money for a few programs throughout Cobb. This year, a portion of the proceeds will benefit The Strand Theatre, Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, Marietta Museum of History and Gone with the Wind Museum.
Andres’ goal is to at least match what they donated last year, $1,000 to each non-profit organization.
Raising money for organizations like this is also what drew long-time Marietta resident Sam Kelly and former east Cobb resident Kim Huffman to grill their best batch of barbecued goodness for the festival competition.
“It’s a primo event,” said Huffman, who moved to Savannah from east Cobb three years ago.
Kelly, who helped coordinate the concept of Whole Hawg with Andres five years ago, agreed.
“We are looking for it to grow, to be very large in coming years,” he said. “This is the only barbecue festival on the Square, so we think it’s going to take its place as one of the best events in Marietta.”
Huffman and Kelly, who have cooked together since 2008 and earned their certification to judge barbecue competitions in 2006, were excited for Marietta’s event to be the first they’ve ever competed in and named their team the “Fightingtown Curlytails.”
“We wanted to see and feel the experience of competing,” Kelly said. “We know what judges look for, so we are trying as cooks to match our flavors and tastes to what we think judges might like to have.”
Each contestant, many of whom are from all over the country, submitted their choice of chicken, ribs and brisket for the competition.
Kelly and Huffman turned in their favorite batch of ribs after trying out two separate recipes.
“We paid attention to what others have done, learned tips from other competitions and prepared by sharing recipes and decided what might work at a venue like this,” Huffman said.
Sunday’s festival wasn’t just about the competition, though.
Families from all over were invited to taste test barbecue dishes from 15 area restaurants in addition to enjoying live musical performances.
Donna and Alan Ross, who live about a mile from the Square, said they enjoyed their first Whole Hawg Happenin’.
“I can’t remember the name but there’s one place over there that had pulled pork that was just so tender,” Alan Ross said with a big smile. “It’s ruined me because if I have anybody else’s pork, it won’t be as good.”
Like many others Sunday, the couple enjoyed their lunch on a picnic blanket in Glover Park with their dog in tow while listening to various performers.
To learn more about the festival for next year’s event, visit wholehawgbbqfest.com.