There were no clouds this year at the 12th annual Smokin’ in Steele BBQ and Blues festival in Owatonna. The festival, which is held each year on the Steele County Fairgrounds, helps raise money for Special Olympics.
“All the money goes to benefit charity,” Entertainment Director John Hammer explained. “With any charity event, it is incumbent upon the community to rise up and support those that need a hand, and the Special Olympics are certainly one of the worthiest charities out there. It’s touches everyone’s lives.”
Hammer credits that community support for the continued success of the event. “This is our 12th year, and it just keeps getting better and better,” he said. “The first nine years we increased our charitable donation by 800 percent.”
“The blues is the one true and only American art form that all other American music came from,” Hammer, a lover of all things blues, explained. “Jazz, rock and roll, hip hop, all that stuff wouldn’t have been possible without the blues.” He joked that he even hears blues chord progression in elevator music.
There were 12 bands featured at this year’s event, including Sarah Grace, a finalist on the music competition show “The Voice,” Ray Fuller & the Bluesrockers, and Lisa Mann. The festival also featured events such as the Blues 4 Kids Harmonica Lessons, a 5k walk/run, and the Hot Rod, and Antique Car/Tractor Cruise in/show.
People came for the fun and the music, and stayed for the delectable BBQ. This year saw a host of competitors descend upon the fairgrounds in hopes of vying for the awards handed out on Saturday. “We had 22 backyard amateur competitors,” Hammer noted. “And we also have 48 pro teams competing as well.”
“I’m a big fan of the blues yes,” said Smokin’ in Steele Organizer Joe Albert, “but also a big fan of BBQ as well. Three of our teams are new teams otherwise there’s some seasoned teams, and state championship teams, and there’s some very competitive worldwide teams out there.”
An event that draws in music and BBQ lovers from all over, many of these teams travel far and wide to participate in the yearly festival. “This year we have a team from Missouri,” Albert said. “Some years we even draw them in from Florida. They’re coming to go to our competition but also to catch another competition as well.”
The Lucky 19 Sauce team took home first place in the grand prize among the professional teams and also won first prize in chicken. Aaron Bourdage and Missy Fisher comprise the team, which package and sell their winning sauce in local stores. “We’ve been doing this for fives years, cooking, and our first grand championship was in the backyard competition here in Owatonna, so this is like a homecoming for us,” Bourdage said.
“Honestly it’s a combination of a lot of little things, there is no magic rub, no magic sauce, it’s just really putting in the work, learning from others, and asking questions,” Bourdage said of the method for a winning formula.
Bourdage and Fisher developed their sauce prior to getting into competition BBQ. “We had our sauce without a name and then we entered a BBQ rib contest and we cooked and used the sauce and we won first place and the box number was 19,” he said of how the name came about.
“Really what gets in everyone’s blood whose doing this is the people,” Bourdage said of the community aspect to competitions like this one. “This is the best bunch of people on the planet. We have friends all over the country just from BBQing.”
Dustin and Mary Reese of the local team Hogline took home second place in the grand prize, and Bourdage and Fisher credit them with helping them get in competitive spirits. “We just follow them,” Fisher said. The Lucky 19 team has competed in places like Bentonville, Ark.
Other winners from the weekend competition include: PO PO Pork winning first in ribs, Totally Sauced winning first in pork butt, and Hogline taking first in brisket.
Among the first place backyard winners were: Magnum Pig for chicken, McCarthy BBQ for ribs, Dadbod BBQ for the surprise category of wings, and Smoky GQ for loin. Schwanny Que took home the grand prize in the backyard competition.
Overall it was a fun weekend of good music, good food, and good times for those who attended the 12th Annual Smokin’ in Steele BBQ and Blues Festival.