A revamped Smoke on the Water brought the smoky scent of barbecue to the pavilions of Saracen Landing in Pine Bluff on Friday evening for the start of a two-day competition that organizers said is more community-focused for the 12th year of the annual event.
“The venue is a lot more local and hometown this year,” event organizer Stacy Haynes said. “We tried very hard to get the community more involved. Among our 37 barbecue teams in the competition this year we have a group from the Pine Bluff Police Department; [Pine Bluff] Mayor [Debe] Hollingsworth has a team with members of her staff; and the city street department is also competing. We have had a really good response.”
Haynes said she is excited to be featuring dogs in need of adoptive families during the day Saturday.
“I am a big advocate for animals so I am really happy to have our Parade of Paws, which will have dogs from at least five animal shelters here and available for adoption,” Haynes said. “Two area veterinarians will be here to provide a free first set of shots for the dogs that are adopted. All tips from our beer sales during the weekend will be evenly divided up between the animal shelter organizations to help them with their work.”
Haynes said that for $5 attendees will be able to participate in the tasting and judging of barbecue ribs that will determine the People’s Choice Winner.
“Our city has been so supportive of this,” Haynes said. “Our mayor is so wonderful and has helped us get ready for this weekend.”
Johnny Cleaver of Searcy has a proven recipe for barbecue that has earned recognition for him and his teammates.
“The idea is to make sure that your spices are spread evenly across the meat,” Cleaver said. “I use some cayenne pepper as well as brown sugar among other things. The meat is smoked for three hours then we put it in aluminum foil after applying a glaze for two more hours followed by the smoker for one more hour.”
Cleaver’s wife, Chasidy Cleaver, said her father has worked on professional barbecue teams and the competition appealed to her and to her husband.
“So far our barbecue won first place in a wing competition and came in second in a pulled pork competition,” Chasidy Cleaver said. “So we know we have a winning formula.”
The couple’s third teammate is Billy Winter of Little Rock, who works at Relyance Bank in Pine Bluff.
“I think this is a lot of fun and joined up with them a couple of years ago,” Winter said.
Brad Thomas, the head chef at Harbor Oaks in Regional Park, is participating with one of the teams.
“It’s great to see the large number of people participating,” Thomas said. “It’s good for the city and in a great spot here at Saracen Landing. Anyone traveling through on the Martha Mitchell Expressway can see that something good is happening and whether they decide to stop or not they can at least see that things are going on in Pine Bluff.”
Bob Purvis is the executive director of the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
“It’s good that we’re taking advantage of what we have here at Saracen,” Purvis said. “The event gets great visibility here next to the highway and with the big investment the city put into this facility it is nice to see it being put to good use. It’s just a fun weekend for us and for the folks in Pine Bluff to come out and have a great time.”
The high-octane rock and roll sounds of the Cummins Prison Band provided the audio accompaniment to the aroma of smoked brisket and ribs that joined forces to create an environment conducive to an enjoyable Friday evening.
The Friday morning arrival of cool, breezy weather was perfectly timed to coincide with the beginning of Smoke on the Water as patrons were clearly enjoying the comfortable conditions.
Children were able to enjoy several bouncy castles supplied by the Pine Bluff Police Department and visitors had the chance to get a taste of the fair with several midway games in one trailer and carnival foods available in another.
Several of the barbecue competition teams had already begun setting up their equipment throughout the pavilion area and out into the adjacent parking lot Friday evening.
Smoke on the Water will open to the public at 10:30 a.m., with rib samples from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.; the Parade of Paws at 2 p.m.; a performance by Riverbilly from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m.; barbecue competition awards ceremony at 5 p.m.; and a performance by Tragikly White from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.