Cool weather, clouds, and a threat of rain didn’t help make this year’s Pork in the Park a success. (In fact, the rain this evening forced its closure at 8 p.m. rather than the planned 10 p.m.)
But I think the die was cast months before when the decision was made to scale back the event dramatically. First of all, you may notice that among my photos you won’t find any detailing the competition aspect of the event because there was none. Yes, you read this right. So I took far fewer photos.
Freed of the need to wonder if enough teams would enter to make up the prize pool, they reduced the admission charge down to $3. But they made other changes as well. I read on Facebook beforehand that there were no rides there this year; indeed, that was the case as they were replaced by a row of bounce houses and an entertainment stage for kids in their own section.
If that wasn’t enough for the kids, there was the opportunity to watch pig races. No wagering, please.
They also had dachshunds with bun costumes racing, from what I understand. PETA hasn’t shut down this New Jersey-based company yet, but I’m waiting.
The pig and “hot dog” races were intended to fill the half-hour changeover between bands. And you can tell crowds were down when this was the attendance for a well-known local singer like Randy Lee Ashcraft.
It’s not like there wasn’t a talented band on stage – there just weren’t a whole lot of people there on this Saturday afternoon.
Of course, there were a few holdover events the organizers opted to keep, such as the beer beach.
It didn’t seem very full when we were there, but then it was early afternoon on a chilly day. To me, beer is more of a warm day and late afternoon/evening beverage.
They also brought back the Eastern Shore Wing War.
In a three-hour event, participants bought admission for $10 and received 20 tasting tickets for the various vendors vying for wing supremacy. I’m not a big chicken wing fan, but this was one of the two relatively popular attractions (the other being the pig races, for which I witnessed a few hundred people looking on.) According to Pork in the Park’s social media sites, The Deli was judged the overall winner, with Sub Runners and The Corner Grill garnering second and third, respectively.
All this food and beer could be worked off in their cornhole tournament.
As a whole, though, the event was fairly disappointing when compared to previous renditions. The park just seemed so empty.
2015 was the twelfth annual event, which means Pork in the Park began about the same time I arrived in the area. As I recall – and a little (very little) research bore out – the weather was less than cooperative for most of the early versions of the event as well. The first year it really took off was 2007, the fourth edition of the event. Granted, at the time the economy was much better as well, but if you look at that post you’ll notice the day was nice and sunny. Ironically, had Pork in the Park held their traditional third weekend in April date in 2015 the weather would have been fantastic. (Go back and look at my Third Friday photos from last week.) Instead, they opted for the dates vacated when the Salisbury Festival pulled the plug after thirty-plus years.
Even with as much promotion as I heard for it locally, the event stands at a crossroads. If it’s considered a failure this year due to low attendance, the problem can’t be determined very easily – is the poor weather to blame or a lack of entertainment options? The festival went for broke last year with its entertainment selections, bringing in two national acts plus the eating contest, but it also departed from its traditional date and shifted to Mother’s Day weekend because Easter fell on its normal third weekend in April – so the number of KCBS competition teams was way down from previous years, when well over 100 teams would bid for the various prizes.
Meanwhile, there is now competition from a similar event in Snow Hill called the Pig and a Jig BBQ Festival, which will be held in late May. As of this year it became a KCBS-sanctioned event so Pork in the Park wouldn’t be locally exclusive for that distinction anymore.
If you ask me, the problems with Pork in the Park began the year they decided to revamp the arrangement of the food court. But I was reading that post and it reminded me just how large the event became, even in a bad economy. There was plenty of interest because the admission price was still pretty low – I don’t remember if it was still $2 or had jumped to $3, but it was a far cry from the $7 they charged last year.
This year’s event just seemed dull and lifeless. Perhaps the crummy weather played a part, but I thought the competition aspect gave it character as well as provided a little boost to the local economy. I doubt there are nearly as many competition teams these days as the BBQ craze is somewhat played out, but we once had the second-largest competition in the country and it’s a shame all that went away. The first step in bringing it back, though, is to make clear that 2015 wasn’t the final Pork in the Park.
What we had this year was not the ending the event would deserve after a great run.