By: Danny May
Come for the fun, stay for the food. While much of the live entertainment at the International Bar-B-Q Festival is geared toward adults, organizers strive to provide something for everyone, especially the young and young at heart. Here are four family-friendly options to enjoy at the Fest.
The carnival at the Bar-B-Q Fest started with just a few kiddie rides in a small area downtown. Since Casey’s Rides brought their show to the Festival 25 years ago, they have improved the carnival attractions each year and built it into a local family tradition.
“We’ve grown with the Festival all these years,” says Debbie Green, Owner of Casey’s Rides. “The Bar-B-Q Fest is one of our biggest events every year. It’s been a great relationship that’s really been successful for both of us.”
This year, Casey’s plans to bring 30 rides, six food concession booths, and ten midway games, which will be split evenly between two locations at the Festival. The lot next to the bridge (across from Wax Works) will feature a few more thrill rides geared for teens, while the grass area at 2nd & Frederica (where the International Bluegrass Center will be built) has a few more family rides.
Tickets are $1.25 each, but Casey’s offers two value packs: 10 tickets for $10, and 26 tickets for $20. Rides average three tickets per ride. Thrill rides can be four or five tickets while kiddie rides are two tickets.
At Casey’s shows, you will find traditional favorites like the Ferris Wheel, Tilt-a-Whirl, Carousel, Sizzler (Scrambler), Gravitron, and the Music Express.
Green says the Superman ride is their most popular attraction. “It has everything; music, spinning, height. We sell more tickets to that ride than any other.”
The new attraction this year is the “Walking Dead,” a walk-through that Green says has a few tricks and surprises but is not too intense. Recommended age is 7 – preteen.
Families returning to the carnival this year may notice the rides have a fresh coat of paint with new color schemes. Several rides also got new LED lights this year.
That’s because Casey’s strives to maintain a clean, safe environment to help give parents peace of mind. “We have random drug tests for our employees. We own our concession stands, so it’s important to us that they’re run the right way. We also have team leaders who oversee each section of our operation.”
Speaking of concessions, the midway sells the usual amusement park treats; cotton candy, funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos, caramel apples, Polish or Italian sausage, and made-from-scratch pizza.
Families will notice little “extras” like benches and covered picnic tables at Casey’s shows. “We invest in things like that to make the experience nicer for families, rather than new, expensive thrill rides. We look at the whole experience for families while they’re at our events,” Green said.
“It’s our goal as a company to entertain the entire family. Other companies may have newer, more expensive thrill rides, but we consider ourselves a family amusement park atmosphere. That’s what we bring with our show. Our rides are fun for toddlers, teens, and mom and dad too.”
The Family Pavilion
For more than twenty years, The Family Pavilion at First Baptist Church has been a “must do” at the Bar-B-Q Fest.
The event is held Saturday, May 14 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. in the rear parking lot of First Baptist Church.
“The Family Pavilion is a lot of fun,” says event organizer, Brent Phillips. “We love to serve the community. This is our way to provide a free, fun place for parents to bring their kids during the Bar-B-Q Festival.”
This year the Family Pavilion will feature five inflatables: two bounce houses, two obstacle courses, and a sports combo baseball and football toss.
There will also be face painting, temporary tattoos, balloon animals, and free popcorn and water to all who come.
Each kid gets a wrist band that is good for the whole day. “Kids can race, climb, jump, and throw as much as they want to. It makes it nice for families because kids can play for a while, then take a break, go eat, and come back to play again if they want to,” Phillips said.
This is Phillips’ first year to coordinate the Family Pavilion, although he’s volunteered at the event several years. “We try to keep it fresh each year. Last year we had a petting zoo, but this year we added more inflatables since that company couldn’t come this year.”
Christian Family Radio (WCVK out of Bowling Green) will be broadcasting live that day as well, playing music throughout the parking lot and interacting with the kids.
First Baptist funds the Family Pavilion from the church’s “serve budget,” which Phillips says is money set aside to love on the community. “We love to serve our community any way we can. The Family Pavilion is one way we do that.”
The International Bar-B-Q Festival 5K began is a project that was organized by the Festival board. Now the run is organized by the Owensboro Family YMCA. “The 5K is another example of our mission (as a board) to provide avenues for non-profits to raise funds. We get a small fee to help cover Festival costs and the YMCA raises funds through sponsors and participants for their programs during the year,” explained Sharon NeSmith, Festival co-chair.
The 5K is more than a race, it’s an experience. “The great thing about the International Bar-B-Q Fest 5K presented by Humana Vitality is that it is a FAMILY event,” says Chad Hart, Owensboro Family YMCA Program Director. “Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and children can all participate. We have walking divisions for those who cannot run and we also allow strollers!”
Thousands participate every year. The race uses top of the line technology to make it a top-notch event with music, crowds to cheer on all the participants, and refreshments at the finish line. Not to mention the fun and entertainment at the Festival following the race.
Each year, 5-8 local elementary schools register school teams. Hart says the Bar-B-Q Fest 5K has between 500-800 young participants from school registrations alone.
Pie Eating Contest
The kids’ Pie Eating Contest is a long-standing tradition at the Bar-B-Q Fest that was started the first year of the Festival in 1979.
“This event is a ton of fun,” says coordinator, Debbie Creamer. “But we only have room for 10 to participate, so parents need to sign their kids up fast. It’s also fun to watch though.”
The Pie Eating Contest is a free event for kids 12 and under. Each contestant is presented with a Chocolate Pie donated from Kohler’s Bakery. Without using their hands, contestants must eat the pie and flip the empty pie shell onto their head. The first three contestants to complete the task win a cash prize.
All contestants will receive a free Bar-B-Q Festival tee shirt, which comes in handy since they’ll have pie all over themselves!
This year’s contest takes place on the overlook pier at noon on Saturday, May 14.