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Moving past 2021 snub, Texas Monthly says Lockhart top choice

From staff reports

Texas Monthly’s editors may not have believed any of Lockhart’s barbecue restaurants to be worthy of a place in their most recent Top 50 but, nonetheless, they’re interested in moving their annual Texas Monthly BBQ Fest to the city the Texas Senate proclaimed the Barbecue Capital of Texas nearly 20 years ago.

Texas Monthly Director of Video and Events Melissa Reese and Event Production lead Neil Maris made the trip to Lockhart Tuesday night to meet with City Council and get permission to hold their two-day event at Lockhart City Park and in the city square, putting an end to its 12-year run in downtown Austin.

Reese told council that Texas Monthly wanted to evolve and expand its event into the future and that it believed Lockhart would be a logical long-term venue.

“The city of Lockhart is home to a storied barbecue legacy. By relocating the festival’s flagship event (featuring Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joints) —and adding a new day to the billed as the BBQ World’s Fair —we hope to celebrate this history and integrate it into the event’s narrative,” Reese wrote in a letter to council dated Friday, Jan. 14. “The BBQ World’s Fair will celebrate the big, wide world of barbecue from its roots in Central Texas to the far reaches of the globe. We envision a colorful, inclusive community event that showcases many different aspects and flavors of barbecue, the people who contribute to its craft and culture, and the people who love to eat it.”

The council voted 7-0 to approve the event with details to follow.

Visitors from Texas Monthly said the proposed event is still in its planning stages.

The event, which is tentatively slated for Nov. 5-6, would introduce the new BBQ World’s Fair in downtown Lockhart, which would be a free event with ticketed guest barbecue vendors.

“We want to bring in five guest barbecue vendors,” said Reese. “We’re working with our barbecue editors on that. We want to have an expo vibe, with artisan goods and live music.”

Day 2 of the event, the Top 50 event, would feature Texas Monthly’s Top 50 barbecue venues for 2022. 

Projected attendance for the event is 5,000 on Saturday and 4,000 ticketed attendees on Sunday. Texas Monthly would secure planning, production, staffing, marketing, ticketing and partnerships. 

Reese said Texas Monthly was looking for help with a list of services built into their budget that are estimated between $20,000-25,000. Items they would like help with, including in-kind donations, if possible, include help with permitting, security staffing, getting local businesses on board, access to utilities and creating places to park and locations for ride shares.

Reese said the city could consider an event sponsorship starting at $50,000 (including in-kind services) for logo inclusions, promotions, and media on Texas Monthly platforms touting Lockhart.

Council members Derrick David Bryant and Kara McGregor stressed the importance of Lockhart’s barbecue venues getting to participate in the event.

“We have some locals who take part in our barbecue, and there are some sore feelings out there about not making your list of 50,” McGregor said.

Reese said they wanted to establish a forum with the local barbecue leaders about how they would work out inclusion. She said a presence at the Saturday downtown expo was a possibility.

“They’re a big part of why we’re here and why we would want to hold the event in Lockhart,” Reese said. 

Black’s owner Kent Black spoke in favor of the event, but said he hoped the council would work with Texas Monthly to ensure local businesses and Lockhart barbecue eateries are promoted.

“I think it would be good for Lockhart and good for our downtown,” Black said. “I think it will be a good event if we do our best as a city to make sure the local businesses are part of the festival.

“My hope here is that there is a way to weave in the big four barbecue restaurants. One thought I have is Texas Monthly having the barbecue restaurants at their (Top 50) event. Call us the local legends. Top 50, plus the local legends. I think that would really add to the event. I just want you to think about those things, and I know y’all will come up with a good plan.”

Mayor Pro Tem Angie Gonzales-Sanchez agreed with Black’s sentiment.

“I know there are people out there saying they really don’t need the publicity,” Sanchez said of Lockhart’s barbecue eateries. “But if we’re having an event at this capacity and focusing on barbecue, give credit where credit is due and help acknowledge the families that helped put Lockhart on the map.”

Council member Jeffry Michelson said he believed it was important to make sure Lockhart was named as a sponsor and had its logo included if they provided help, including in the form of in-kind donations and directed City Manager Steve Lewis to work with the event organizers on that matter.

“I think we need publicity with our logo naming us as a sponsor,” Michelson said. “Any other event we’ve done in Lockhart, no matter the dollar amount, whether we’ve helped in kind, we’ve been a sponsor. I think that needs to be done and I think Steve will take care of that.”

Lewis reminded council that Texas Monthly’s event planning crew was planning to get a group of downtown business owners together to discuss the event prior to the formation of an operating agreement between the city and the magazine, similar to what had been done with other events.

Council member Brad Westmoreland said Texas Monthly needed council’s approval, a date secured and a warm welcome to get started with planning in earnest.

“So, welcome to Lockhart,” Westmoreland said.

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