ZEPHYRHILLS — Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues, the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce’s signature event, is moving to the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport and will be held Jan. 18.
For the past three years, the event has been at Krusen Field in October. It will be held in conjunction with the inaugural Zephyrhills Municipal Airport Fly-In.
“I believe this year is the year BBQ & Blues takes off,” said chamber Executive Director Vonnie Mikkelsen.
The change essentially was a business decision, Mikkelsen said. “First of all, the snowbirds are always sorry to have missed the event when they start arriving after the first of the year. Next January, they’ll be just in time,” she said. “Secondly, the fall community calendar is, quite frankly, busting at the seams. This is a spectacular demonstration of community and what we boast about to newcomers and visitors. But it takes a community to put on a community event, and we are mindful that there is not a free-flowing tap of sponsorship dollars, volunteers, public safety officers and attendees. We would rather support other fundraisers and events, not find ourselves in a position of competing for resources.”
Moving to the airport was a natural evolution for the event, Mikkelsen said. “We had talked about the airport as a potential venue from Day One, back in 2010. But with heightened collaboration between the chamber and the airport through our business development efforts, the expanded partnership has been effortless.”
With the airport as a venue, airport manager Mike Handrahan has organized the fly-in and made arrangements for other aviation-related activities to run concurrently with the event. The WWII Museum of Military History, located at the airport, will be open during the event, and some airplane displays will be set up. Private and recreational pilots will be invited to fly in and park at the airport to enjoy the festivities.
The Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles volunteer pilots plan to offer free flights to children ages 8 to 17. Biplane rides will be available to adults for purchase. Both will be available at the airport terminal.
Handrahan said the fly-in hopes to attract pilots from other airports who would fly in instead of driving.
“There are no planned aviation aerial events,” he said. “It’s not an air show.
Professional and backyard barbecue competitions are the main events of the festival. Professional barbecue chefs compete for prizes from an $8,000 purse for the plates of pork, chicken, ribs and brisket. There is a separate competition for backyard chefs, mostly for trophies, ribbons and bragging rights, but new this year is a small purse for grand and reserve champions in the backyard division.
The event has been growing in popularity, especially with professional barbecue competitors and barbecue judges. Last year the competition became the “State Championship Contest” by proclamation of House Speaker Will Weatherford. It is a prestigious classification among barbecue competitors, That means the grand champion of the professional division will receive an invitation to the American Royal national championships in Kansas City, Mo., and enter in the drawing for the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tenn.
The festival includes live blues, food and drink, including a beer truck, a motorcycle and classic car cruise-in, a business expo and a kids’ zone.
A portion of proceeds will be used to benefit local youth and education programs of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and other youth organizations signing up to volunteer at the event.
For sponsor, vendor or team applications information, see www.zephyr hillschamber.org or call (813) 782-1913.