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Expo lands February barbecue competition — Bones & Barrels

The 14-year-old Battle of the Bones event is being rebranded as Bones and Barrels and will be held in February at the Expo. [2019 photo courtesy Battle of the Bones]

The barbecue lovers’ event, Battle of the Bones, is being rebranded to Bones & Barrels and moving from September to February.

Central Point City Council voted recently to gift the 14-year-old Battle of the Bones event to the Jackson County Expo. The popular barbecue competition, held previously in conjunction with the fairgrounds’ September Brewfest, was started by the city in 2009. The event originally was held at Twin Creeks Park and featured free admission but grew too large and was moved to the fairgrounds a half-dozen years ago.

A newly branded, 21-and-older version of the event will move from September, replacing The Expo’s popular Bacon and Barrels with “Bones & Barrels.”

Slated for Feb. 3-4, this year’s flagship event will feature 10 to 12 competing barbecue teams, distilled spirit samples, live entertainment and a full bloody Mary bar.

Central Point Parks and Public Works Director Matt Samitore said the city, after reviewing the staff time, cost-benefit and overall need for Battle of the Bones, and the fact that staff had not budgeted for the event over the past two years due to it being canceled in 2020 and 2021, felt the smartest decision was to hand it off for The Expo to run and expand.

Jackson County Expo officials said they were excited to help the event continue and to make it part of their winter lineup, replacing the bacon-themed event with a barbecue extravaganza, Expo Director Helen Funk said this week.

Brewfest will remain in September, complete with concerts, vendors, food trucks and fair food, Funk said.

Bones & Barrels will be limited to 500 tastings of barbecue to ensure competing teams are able to focus on their craft and not overwhelming quantity. Funk said competitors regularly, and quickly, sold out in years past, causing frustration.

“When it was held in the fall, it would bring thousands and thousands and thousands of people out to have the barbecue and go to the concerts. The barbecue teams struggled to cook so many samples, so it would get to be kind of like … Armageddon. People were hungry, and the barbecue ran out and it was a bad scene,” Funk said.

“They sold out on a regular basis even before we added the concerts. For Bacon and Barrels, vendors asked that we keep it to 500 tastes per session, and it was far more manageable.”

Samitore said city officials voted to transfer the event, trademark and website to The Expo as well as provide a $5,000 event sponsorship and some limited staff time to train Expo staff on the ins and outs of running the event. Sponsorship money came from the city’s Battle of the Food Trucks budget, which was canceled for the past two years due to both the pandemic and scheduling conflicts.

“We’ve run it for many, many years, but the last time we ran it was pre-COVID. It’s a very time-intensive event, and we felt like we’ve already held it at The Expo for quite a few years. So why not see if they wanted to take it on?” Samitore said.

“After COVID, it was really hard for us to meet all the restrictions put into place by the state and then our own insurance. It just wasn’t a good fit for the city any longer. … This is an event that I started, and it’s very near and dear to my heart, so I’m really happy to have it continue at The Expo.”

Funk said she looked forward to the event evolving and growing as a February favorite at The Expo.

“We’re absolutely honored to have it and, if this doesn’t work or if people don’t respond in winter, we’ll look to creating something at a different time of year when it might work better,” she said.

“I strongly believe that our valley is going to support a barbecue rib competition just about any time of year.”

For more information, see attheexpo.com/bacon

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.