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Lexington’s Barbecue Festival Overview: The Impact of Coronavirus

Updated: Apr 19

Lexington’s Barbecue Festival is a Piedmont Tradition and one of the most popular food festivals in the country. The festival is held every October in Uptown Lexington, the barbecue capital of the world, and acts as the grand finale of “Barbecue Month.” The festival includes athletic events, music, writing contests, rides, games, and some winners even receive a year’s worth of Pepsi products. Since the 1980s, the festival crowds have increased from 30,000 to 200,000.

I was raised in North Carolina, Cary, specifically, but oddly had never heard of the Lexington Barbecue Festival. I did learn at a young age that the culture of barbecue in North Carolina was very serious. I attended my mom’s coworker’s wedding on a farm out in the middle of nowhere, where the bride and groom roasted a full pig over a smoking fire, and never forgot the slow turning of its body that creeped me out so much.

Across NC there are different types of barbecue for each region. Ten blocks of Main Street are closed off for the annual festival in Lexington, NC, and are filled with hundreds of exhibitors offering delicious barbecues and tasty desserts. The event has become a community tradition that North Carolinians look forward to every year. Though I have personally never been, I liken the experience to the NC State Fair, where there are thousands of people, amazing food, fun games, and family time is appreciated.

The year 2020 was supposed to bring new beginnings and the biggest Lexington Barbecue Festival yet, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. and North Carolina heavily. For the first time, in 38 years, the festival has been canceled. We can add the state’s favorite barbecue celebration to the list of COVID-19-related disappointments. The Virtual Tour de Pig has been put in the festival’s place, where riders will ride any route they choose, between October 1-10th, wearing their Festival shirt and sharing pictures on social media. Yeah, I know, definitely not the same.

The community is rightfully heartbroken as they can’t experience a yearly tradition, but the cancellation of the festival could impact Davidson County more than just emotionally.

The festival brings in millions of dollars in tax revenue every year. Hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations in the area all see spikes in sales during October thanks to those who travel from out of town to attend. Foot traffic is one of the biggest contributors to the increase in sales. Some of these tourists have never been to Lexington, NC before and return after the festival to further explore the town.

Craig Swicegood, a manager of the Holiday Inn at the Vineyards, discussed the impact of the festival on his community, “Nothing so far has had a bigger impact than the Barbecue Festival. It is an opportunity to expose more people to Lexington. We have seen that someone may visit for one day for an event but will return at a later date to check out what else we have to offer.”

Though Lexington will still be receiving registration fees for the Tour De Pig that they say will go into the planning of next year’s festival, it’s obvious that this year’s cancellation could impact the community financially. On the other hand, the cancellation could inspire even more excitement for next year’s festival, which is said to be the biggest one yet. We just have to wait and see.

--Michaela Bramwell


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