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Wildwood BBQ Bash returns to celebrate 10-year anniversary

The BBQ Bash in Ballwin's Vlasis Park in 2008.

The BBQ Bash in Ballwin’s Vlasis Park in 2008.

The 2014 Wildwood BBQ Bash marks the 10th anniversary for the event, and the festival promises to be the biggest it’s ever been. Despite its large size today, Frank Schmer, BBQ Bash organizer and owner of St. Louis Home Fires, is the first to recognize the event’s humble beginnings.

“Ten years ago, I decided that it might be a good idea to hold a barbeque contest, after learning a bit about it on television,” Schmer said. “I am not sure if I even recognized the popularity then.”
The first BBQ Bash was held on the parking lot of St. Louis Home Fires, and featured seven competitors and five judges. Schmer said the festival now hosts close to 100 competitors, 125 judges and crowds 50,000 strong, a growth that has surpassed Schmer’s wildest expectations.

View schedule of events here.

“I always thought my biggest problem would be to not attract enough people,” Schmer said. “Now it’s so popular that we are really having to work hard with the St. Louis County Police and the city of Wildwood to make sure that we ensure a good event.”

Schmer said the BBQ Bash owes a great deal of its success to the intervention of Richard and Susan Schmidt, a pair of master-certified barbecue judges, leading up to and during the first BBQ Bash.

The Schmidts initially contacted Schmer out of the blue after hearing about the BBQ Bash, and asked him if he needed judges for the contest. Schmer said Richard and Susan recognized he needed some assistance and offered their help. Barbecue judges don’t receive pay for their services, so Richard said the reason for his and Susan’s participation was and is simple.

“We just enjoy food that tastes good,” Richard said.

The Schmidts have since returned to the event every year, helping to run the judges’ quarters and certify all the BBQ Bash’s judges.

“I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I don’t think the St. Louis BBQ Society or the Bash would be anywhere close to where it is without Richard or Susan Schmidt,” Schmer said “They were the ones that really helped me survive that first year.”

In its second year, the BBQ Bash experienced explosive growth, jumping up to 56 competitors. The event sprawled across St. Louis Home Fires’ and two adjacent parking lots. The event’s second year also marked the creation of the St. Louis BBQ Society, which has worked ever since to support the art of barbecuing and grilling in the area.

When the BBQ Bash moved into Ballwin’s Vlasis Park for its third year, Schmer said the event morphed from a barbeque competition into a full-blown festival. Live music was incorporated, and competitors started selling to the attendees.

“That was a big deal, because in most barbecue contests throughout the country, the teams do not vend to the public, they just compete,” Schmer said.

Two years after the move to Vlasis Park, the BBQ Bash traveled again, this time to Wildwood, where the event has remained for the last six years.

For the fast-approaching 2014 Wildwood BBQ Bash, Schmer said he just hopes the crowds will turn out and for pleasant weather.

He said that the Bash’s growth and popularity humbles him, and that he is grateful for the contributions that everyone involved has made over the years to make the BBQ Bash an ongoing event for West County to enjoy.

“Without the teams, the public, the host city, the St. Louis County Police and everybody’s cumulative efforts, there’s no way this thing would go. It really is an event that was created by these barbecue teams,” Schmer said. “It’s truly an event for the people.”

West Newsmagazine has proudly sponsored the BBQ Bash for the last 10 years.

BBQ Bash schedule




Country music star Joe Nichols, local bands to perform free concerts

With a new single just released and a new baby in the house, Joe Nichols is one busy man. But that’s not going to stop the country music star from dropping by the Wildwood BBQ Bash on Sept. 28 for a free – yes, you read that right – acoustic set, powered in part by Wildwood’s own Three French Hens.

Hot off the release of “Hard to be cool” (Sept. 1) and the birth of his third daughter, Georgia (May 20), Nichols will be taking the stage in Wildwood, courtesy of 92.3WIL, to perform an intimate concert – just Nichols, his guitar and his fellow St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Born in Rogers, Arkansas, Nichols has been a lifelong Cardinals fan. A photo on his website (joenichols.com) shows a photo of Nichols “with a few of the guys” in St. Louis for a Cardinals game this summer.

Already well-known for chart buster hits like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” “Gimme That Girl,” and his certified Gold single “Sunny and 75,” Nichols’ love of great baseball is one more reason to like this guy. And apparently – like you – he enjoys great BBQ.

Nichols will take the stage on Sunday following the Funky Butt Brass Band.

• • •

Several popular jazz and blues bands from the St. Louis area are set to perform on the Main Stage at this year’s Wildwood BBQ Bash. Some are newcomers and others are back by popular demand, but all will provide outstanding entertainment to go along with the great barbeque throughout the weekend.

Up first on Saturday, from 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., is funk jazz ensemble Dawn Weber and Naked Rock Fight. This high-energy six piece group, fronted by contemporary jazz trumpet virtuoso Weber, performs its own original material. From blues to soul and pop, and from modern jazz chords to fusion-oriented horn lines, the group’s sound is sure to have the audience up and dancing.

Taking the Main Stage from 4-7:30 p.m. on Saturday are repeat Bash performers Kingdom Brothers, a red-hot electric blues band from St. Louis which credits its great sound to the timeless influences of blues icons – Albert King, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Eric Clapton  to name a few– along with the powerful spirit of gospel groups. With the soulful vocal delivery of songwriter Chris Shepherd, a solid rhythm section, and some guitar and keyboard magic, the six-member Kingdom Brothers form a blues, Gospel and rock combination audiences want to hear over and over again.

Although he is only 17, blues guitarist Matt Lesch already has earned the nickname “The Rattlesnake.” On Saturday from 8-11 p.m., the Wildwood audience will see why. Lesch and his backing band, the BBQ Bash All-Stars, will rock the Main Stage with the passionate blues sound that’s drawing audiences throughout the area to see this talented young musician.

On Sunday, from 10:45 a.m.-2 p.m., the BBQ Bash will feature the Funky Butt Brass Band (FBBB) for the fourth straight year.  FBBB was formed in 2008 by six talented musicians who revere the New Orleans brass band tradition, giving it their own twist while mixing in some Motown, Southern rock, Memphis soul, Chicago blues and St. Louis R&B. The band has received the Riverfront Times Music Award for Best Funk/Soul Band four years running.

All of these groups will provide a terrific soundtrack for the weekend’s activities.  Don’t miss it!


Alternate what to know picTips for enjoying the bash: What to know before you go

 The 2014 Wildwood BBQ Bash is expected to be the largest celebration of the festival to date. In order to ensure that attendees enjoy every aspect of the festival, the city of Wildwood, Metro West Fire Protection District and the Wildwood precinct of the St. Louis County Police Department will be taking measures to make the BBQ Bash run as smoothly as possible.

Parking for the event will be at a premium, especially on Sunday, due to the performance of country music star Joe Nichols. Gary Crews, Wildwood’s superintendent of parks and recreation, said that on-site parking for the festival will be extremely limited. There will be some parking available at the festival, but families and friends of BBQ Bash participants will take up most of the available on-site parking spots, according to Crews.

Attendees are asked to park at the St. Louis Community College-Wildwood campus, where shuttles will ferry them to and from the event. On Saturday, shuttles will run from 6 a.m.-midnight. On Sunday, shuttles will run from the Wildwood campus and Lafayette High School. Sunday shuttles will run continuously from Lafayette from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and from STLCC-Wildwood from 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

Metro West and the police department will have a command post onsite to manage any issues that arise. Metro West will set up a paramedic station as part of the command post, which will include a cooling station and first aid room. Metro West also will have a first aid substation located in the thick of the BBQ Bash where they can provide immediate assistance if needed.

The police department will provide traffic officers to help with the flow of vehicles and post signs pertaining to parking throughout the BBQ Bash weekend.

Crews said drivers should be aware that the BBQ Bash property will be cordoned off from Hwy. 100 and Fountain Place will be closed. The roundabout connected to Plaza Drive also will be mostly closed down to make room for the Farmers Market.

Parking along the shoulder of Hwy. 100, and in nearby residential neighborhoods is prohibited and will be strictly enforced, according to Crews.

Attendees are encouraged to keep the traffic and parking situations in mind, and are asked to remain patient with the crowds drawn by the BBQ Bash.

With that in mind, Crews said: “There’s going to be plenty of good food there and there’s going to be plenty of good entertainment the entire weekend.”


photo-3Iron Chef tradition continues

 One of the BBQ Bash’s most popular features, the Iron Chef competition patterned after Food Network TV show “Iron Chef America,” is back for 2014, sponsored by Doc’s Harley Davidson. Six randomly selected barbeque teams will receive identical ‘mystery baskets’ of ingredients at 1 p.m. on Saturday – and then the pressure is on to prepare the best-tasting and most innovative dish, utilizing every ingredient, within two hours. A team of VIP judges will taste and evaluate the entries beginning at 3 p.m., and the team earning the prestigious 2014 Wildwood BBQ Bash Iron Chef title will be announced at 3:30 on the Main Stage.


People’s Choice Award honors best wings

Again this year, Wildwood BBQ Bash guests will have the opportunity to enjoy delicious chicken wings prepared by participating teams – and to pick a People’s Choice Award winner. Fifteen barbeque teams will prepare wings using their own ‘secret formula’ recipes. The contest begins at 11 a.m. on Sunday in front of the Main Stage area, and the winning wings will be announced during the awards ceremony. For a fee of $5, Bash guests can sample all the contestants’ entries and cast their votes for the 2014 People’s Choice champion.

Fireworks light up the night 

Guests attending the BBQ Bash on Saturday evening will be treated to a fantastic fireworks show, courtesy of Three French Hens in Wildwood.  The fireworks spectacular will get underway at 9 p.m. Bash festivities will continue long after the sun goes down, so plan to bring the whole family and stick around for this final fireworks display of the year!


Contests entertain young guests

The BBQ Bash offers something for everyone – including youngsters and the ‘young at heart.’ On Saturday at 11:30 a.m., Electro Savings Credit Union will sponsor a Super Sleuth Challenge, a scavenger hunt among the festival booths. Guests who stop by the Electro Savings booth receive a list of clues and a Sherlock Holmes-style mustache to wear as they complete the challenge, gathering a list of key words until someone puts together the winning phrase to win a Visa gift card. And for those visitors who love sweet treats, Nationwide Insurance Lanham Agency will sponsor ice cream eating contests at two different times on Saturday, 11:35 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.


BBQ Charity photoBBQ teams honor heroes, support charities

 The Wildwood BBQ Bash has grown exponentially over its 10-year history – and so have its efforts to support those who serve along with charities both local and worldwide.

The 11 members of the Porkin’ Ain’t Easy team, co-captained by Mike Curry and Chip Caraway, is a prime example. Curry, a veteran BBQ competitor, his wife and daughter became involved with the Bash six years ago. Early on, the team committed to providing free barbeque – along with a full menu of sides, desserts and drinks – to military servicemembers, police officers, firefighters and others who either serve at or attend the festival.

“The first year, we served about 20 people. This year it will be more than 1,000 over a three-day period,” Curry said. “It has become the highlight of our weekend. Although our primary goal is to win (the competition), our most rewarding goal is providing great food and a place for our honored guests to sit, rest and eat.”

The roughly $7,000 it costs the team to feed this huge crowd is more than returned via ‘tip jars’ placed in its tent. Excess donations are used to fund additional support for the Rotary Club, Marine Corps charities and other organizations chosen by team members.

Curry himself will be performing the national anthem at the Bash opening ceremonies. “For me, singing is another opportunity to express appreciation to those who serve us all,” he added. “They might soon wish I’d stick to barbeque!”

Charities too numerous to name also will benefit from the efforts of the 100-plus BBQ Bash teams along with other affiliated organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Lions Club and the Pond Athletic Organization.

The festival’s charitable impact will be felt as far away as Haiti. Ballwin dentist James Stanford, whose Chompers team is comprised of Stanford and his family, supports the Haiti Orphan Project, or HOPE, which he became involved with on a mission trip with his daughter.

“Our goal is to provide dental care to kids in Haiti orphanages who otherwise would never receive it, as well as to provide instruments, supplies and equipment,” Stanford said. “We have a good time competing as a family, but we have a more important reason to be there as well.”

This year even the festival’s memorabilia will carry the theme of honoring those who serve: Its official t-shirts and trophies will be adorned with camouflage.

“That’s what’s beautiful about the Bash,” said event organizer Frank Schmer.  “Teams are out here doing what they love, while serving others and raising money for those in need.”

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