Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Real Squeal in Georgia

The Real Squeal is a BBQ and music festival with activities for all ages.
Where can you find a mechanical pig to ride? Only at a barbecue festival. The pig at The Real Squeal in Lyons, Georgia, challenges all to demonstrate their rodeo skills. This barbecue competition is as much about identifying and rewarding the best cooking teams as it is providing entertainment, music and community activities for all ages.

Even as grimacing as the mechanical pig looks, most kids ended their rides very happy.
On the drive to Lyons, as I began to pass pecan orchards and cotton fields on an almost empty state highway, I knew I had arrived in rural Georgia. Even though Lyons is a county seat, the population doesn’t surpass 5,000 and the city is overshadowed by neighboring Vidalia, only 10 miles away that bestows its name to the sweet onion grown here. Many people attend its annual Onion Festival each spring, but the Real Squeal in Lyons is the place to be on the second weekend in October.

Rows of pecan trees line the highways on the way to Lyons.
The early role of Lyons as a depot on the railroad is clearly evident as it still bisects the city’s small business district. The city wasn’t founded until 25 years after the American Civil War had ended. Although located near the route of the famous “March to the Sea” by General Sherman’s troops, Lyons had yet to develop as a commercial center and avoided much of the destruction when the railroad in many locations was torn up and twisted into “Sherman’s neckties.”

Friday events include a backyard BBQ contest and many activities in the business district.
An open house of merchants and a backyard BBQ contest (that attracted 18 teams) start The Real Squeal downtown on a Friday morning. Later street dances begin before the sun sets and continue well into the evening. When I arrived at dinner time, both sides of Broad Street (the street that sandwiches the railroad track) was overflowing with a crowd enjoying food, music, and other entertainment, including the famous mechanical pig.

A display shows the expanding popularity of barbecue contests in Georgia.
In only their sixth year, the festival organizers have done an amazing job of soliciting almost 100 local businesses as sponsors, which underwrite a remarkable assortment of activities, such as a BBQ scholarship pageant. My favorite event is “Pig Tales,” a competition for students to write a poem, essay, or short story about growing up in rural Georgia. Students receive awards at the ceremony on Saturday that closes the festival with other festival winners such as the cooking teams.

Music continues throughout Saturday in Partin Park as the crowd awaits the awards ceremony.
The professional BBQ contest moves into the limelight on Saturday at Partin Park where music plays throughout the day on the main stage (The Real Squeal is equally a music and barbecue festival). In keeping with the barbecue theme, the mechanical pig is moved overnight from downtown to the park and is typically surrounded by kids wanting to test their riding skills. The crowd wanders among food vendors, arts and crafts, cultural displays, and other kid activities.

The Real Squeal attracts about 8,000 spectators.
Meanwhile the barbecue judges quietly assemble in the park at the Callaway Center and await the arrival of entries by the 27 teams completing for the $20,000 in prize money. The typical four categories – beef brisket, chicken, pork ribs, and pork – of an event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society are carefully prepared and submitted for evaluation.

Judges await the arrival of the first entries.
Begun in 2010 as an effort to revitalize the downtown area of Lyons, The Real Squeal has done more than that. It has brought a greater appreciation for living in rural Georgia as well as attracted dedicated cooking teams that want to prove their prowess at preparing great barbecue.

It's a long weekend for cooking teams who set up early and leave late.