Festival has growing history

Published 11:23 pm Sunday, October 17, 2010

Contributing Editor

As many festivals that include barbecue contests go, Smoke on the Water is a young festival.
But its history continues to develop, including participation by some of the state’s barbecue champions.
Making its debut in 1998, Smoke on the Water makes its 13th appearance Oct. 22-23. This year, the festival is being run by the Washington Noon Rotary, with Rotarian Spencer Stanley serving as chairman of the festival. The inaugural Smoke on the Water was organized mostly by Pam Nuckols and her Admix Agency on behalf of the now-defunct Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association. Later, the HDWMA, under the direction of Gary Tomasulo, took over organization of the festival. After Tomasulo died in a tragic accident on Labor Day 2009, a hastily cobbled committee of about 14 people representing several nonprofit groups, governmental departments and the merchants took over planning for the 2009 Smoke on the Water, which was dedicated to the memory of Tomasulo.
Rains in 2007 and 2008 dampened the festival, but it and the barbecue contest went on. For at least its first five years, Smoke on the Water was sponsored by U.S. Cellular.
Last year, the reigning state barbecue champion, Joe Peterson, competed at Smoke on the Water, but Buddy Moore from Floral Park, N.Y., took home the first-place trophy. Moore has roots in the Plymouth area.
Charlie Meeks, a Newport resident, intends to win the first-place trophy in the barbecue competition at Smoke on the Water this year. He finished in second place last year.
Meeks knows a thing or two about winning barbecue contests.
Meeks, a former state-champion barbecue cooker, won the barbecue contest four years running, 2002 through 2005. He won the North Carolina championship in 2001. He finished fourth in this year’s state barbecue contest.
When he competes, Meeks intends to take home the first-place trophy.
“It doesn’t always end up that way,” he said in a brief interview.
As for winning barbecue contests, “I’m still trying,” Meeks said.
Asked for his views on Smoke on the Water, Meeks said, “I think it gets better every year. … The location is great.”
Meeks said he and other contestants like coming to Washington because, when not tending their pigs, they can “walk around downtown or go get a Bill’s hot dog.”
Smoke on the Water was moved to the Whichard’s Beach peninsula near Chocowinity in 2001 because of renovations to Washington’s Stewart Parkway.
In 2002, Smoke on the Water was the site of the N.C. Pork Council’s Carolina Championship Barbecue Cookoff for that year. Chuck Lidner won the champion’s trophy. Lidner also claimed first place in the showmanship competition. Meeks took first place in the Smoke on the Water barbecue cookoff that year.
A woman won the barbecue contest at Smoke on the Water for the first time in 2007.
Brook Sanford of Newport defeated 29 other contestants to take the title that year. At that time, Sanford was 20. Sanford had been cooking pigs for a few years with her father, Clent, but her award-winning hog in 2007 was the first she had cooked without his help.
Sanford also stood out in 2007 for another reason. She cooked with a pink grill, which was made from a steel drum.
As Smoke on the Water grows, look for its history to grow and become even more diverse.