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A Western Easterner

Updated: Apr 19

This October, I couldn’t believe it. The old phrase “when pigs fly” finally came true. In Lexington, North Carolina, pigs flew over the annual Lexington Barbecue Festival. But don’t be alarmed: these flying pigs were only pig balloons.

For the first time since 2019, the North Carolina Piedmont town of Lexington was home to the nation’s largest barbecue festival. I had heard of the festival only a few times, but only in passing.

What interested me about the Barbecue Festival has a lot to do about where I’m from, and I’m not talking about my town. I come from eastern North Carolina, about an hour and a half away from the coast. For those of you from North Carolina, you may understand why it’s important that I denote the geographical difference. So, if you’re from the Old North State, the next paragraph should be no new news. For those of you readers that are from a different state, there’s something you need to understand about North Carolina and its barbecue.

In eastern North Carolina, barbecue has a vinegar base to it. In the rest of the state that’s west of Raleigh, however, barbecue has a ketchup base. In an effort to keep our attention focused on Lexington’s Barbecue, I’ll stop here. It’s a very simple introduction to a great culinary divide in the state, and I hope I’ve given you enough to understand my intrigue in the festival and what its style of barbecue would hold for me.

Back to the western travelers of an Easterner. When I made it to Lexington’s 38th Barbecue Festival this late October, high expectations were established almost instantly. I find that it’s always a promising sign for a festival when finding parking is nearly impossible. It’s even more promising when you have to park a half-mile away in a local Boy Scout-ran lot.

Once I finally found the Scout lot and stepped out of my car, it was easy to figure out what I needed to do to get to the festival. I simply followed the masses. The streets were lined shoulder to shoulder with people making their respective pilgrimages to Lexington’s festival, which was held downtown.

At the festival itself, Lexington’s Main Street was festooned with barbecue decor and activities to keep anyone occupied for several blocks. Main Street stores opened their doors for patrons to come and go. Seeing more people pop out of the festival itself gave me the impression that this entire celebration was a surprise party for Lexington Barbecue.

Concert stages were scattered throughout Main Street. Each musician played enthusiastically before their passing audiences, almost as though they were the main act. It was easy to feel this way. Each stage was distanced far enough away from the next one, and their speakers were tuned just to the right volume which made it so a passing audience would never hear two acts at the same time. Instead, you simply faded out of one concert and into the next without ever not hearing music.

--Brandon Talton


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