Eighth Annual Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival entertains crowds of music and BBQ lovers

The giant grill full of BBQ meats in front of Smoky’s House BBQ food tent at the Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival in downtown Champaign on Saturday, June 27.

By Ben Lash

The eighth annual Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival took place Friday and Saturday in downtown Champaign. This local tradition is free to the public and showed off a variety of local and national blues artists. Attendees had the chance to enjoy fresh BBQ from various vendors throughout the festival.

“It’s such great music that I don’t think a lot of people get,” said Michael Galloway, festival director of Blues, Brews and BBQ. “A lot of your rock, country, hip hop and everything comes from blues. And who doesn’t like BBQ and beer?”

The festival has undergone a few changes over the years.

“We started in Urbana for about five years and have been in Champaign ever since,” Galloway said. “Every year, it’s gotten bigger. We have wristbands that we use to tag people who drink. Last year, we gave away over 6,000 wristbands over two days.” 

Galloway estimated last year’s festival had over 30,000 people in attendance. 

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One of the biggest parts of the Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival each year is the performances. Over 20 different artists performed throughout Friday and Saturday on the two stages at this year’s festival.

“Every year, we do national acts. Sometimes, we try to get regional acts, and we always try to get a few local groups, too,” Galloway said. “This year, it’s all about the ladies. All the performing artists are ladies. It’s a really cool deal for us.”

Sara Hall, lead singer of the band Upshot, a funky-blues group that performed Friday evening, expressed her excitement for performing at the festival.

“The local music community and the support it has is really unbelievable,” Hall said. “To be able to play on the same stage as a lot of the women coming into town is pretty awesome.”

The festival also featured Dinosores Motorcycle Club bike show on Saturday afternoon. The club displayed a wide variety of motorcycles and presented awards to local citizens and members of the club who brought in different bikes.

“We use the money we raise for charities,” said John Lux, club member and Harley Davidson bike owner. “We also partner with Make a Difference. They sell raffle tickets, and all the money goes to charities in the area.”

In addition to Dinosores Motorcycle Club, the Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival partners with other organizations for charitable causes each year, including Miller Lite, Coors Lite, Central Illinois Bank and Guitar Center.

“We couldn’t do a lot of what we do without them,” Galloway said.

Each year, the festival focuses on celebrating local and musical spirit.

“Everything stems from blues,” Hall said. “Good music is good music, but there’s a certain history that comes from blues.”

Galloway said he believes it is crucial for culture to hold on to the history of blues.

“For the future, we just want to keep going and keep blues alive,” he said.

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