011820 Pigs in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues Festival, Zephyrhills, FL

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On January 18th, 2020 the biggest snowstorm to ever hit Newfoundland was just winding down and I found myself holed up at my mother’s winter home in New Port Richey, Florida for a week longer than I intended as the snow removal crews busily worked to reopen the St. John’s airport.  

I certainly wished I could be home to witness such an event, but if I was going to be marooned in the warm sun I wasn’t going to take it sitting down.  Not even if “sitting down” meant sitting poolside in a comfortable lounge chair in my mom’s personal lanai.

So I scoured the internet for some sort of entertainment and found the local attractions somewhat lacking but lo, just a few dozen miles away I saw something that caught my eye: the 10th Annual Pigs In Z’hills BBQ & Blues Festival which promised live music all day, tons of ‘ribbers, and even a classic car show.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough.  I roped in my brother (who also owns a winter place in NPR) to act as companion and valet and after accompanying my mother on her weekly garage sale parade we were off.

Z’hills was short for Zephyrhills, a curiously-named community forty miles to the east of mom’s place, where my brother and I found the sizeable free festival taking place on a small airstrip.  We parked in a field for $10 and did a walkabout past booth after booth of mouth-watering overpriced rib stands and straight to the beer vendor, which was located conveniently close to the small, permanent stage.

Looking at the program I was surprised to see that we had already missed most of the live music – which had started at the shockingly early hour of 10:30am – though we had made it just in time for the day’s featured performer, a blues guitarist named Sean Chambers.  As the band finished up their line-check the MC took to the mic and announced the afternoon headliner by reading his wikipedia page in it’s entirety (right through to the final line, which was: “…his wife, Karen, handles his merchandise and sales while Chambers is away”), something I found odd and amateurish.  The only time the MC deviated from Sean’s online description was when he read the line “…Chambers toured for four years backing the legendary guitarist Hubert Sumlin…” and ad libbed: “…or ‘Soomlin’, or ‘Sumleen’, or however the heck you say it…” which I found as disrespectful as it was unprofessional.

Anyway, Sean Chambers was quite good, if a little too SRV, and his band was solid too, with the keyboard player wailing on a B3 organ.  They did a nice Allman’s tune and a Hendrix standard as well amongst a pile of stock blues originals.  It was a hot, sunny day with Cessna’s towing gliders through the sparse clouds overhead and king cans of Budweiser served cold for only $5.  Around midset we picked a booth and bought a small sampling of tasty ribs and eventually sauntered over to the very, very small classic car show where my brother gave me the lowdown on each of the dozen or so vehicles (he’s Rain-man when it comes to cars).  All in all it was an extremely pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

We left around 5pm (the fest was slated to end at 6pm) but on our way out we drove past what looked like another classic car show in a parking lot across the street.  My brother pulled in and what we found was a small protest-fest that was in it’s third year.  Surrounding a large-ish auto garage was a much more extensive classic car show along with a single barbecue dude, while inside the garage there was a good band playing great songs by the Allman’s, Skynyrd, Santana, and more.  I talked to the cook and he explained that a few years earlier he and his pals had gone to the Pigs & Blues fest, bought some overpriced ribs and found them so lacking that they threw their entire $60 pile of food into the garbage.  The following year they decided to hold their own festival with better food, better music, and more cars and I gotta say, I think they succeeded (though I didn’t try any food).  We stuck around for about half-an-hour but I sure wish we had pulled in there first!  

Soon enough, however, it was time to drive off into the sunset back to the Longhorn’s in New Port Richey for a highly anticipated dinner where I was shocked (and dismayed) to discover that “chop steak” is a euphemism for “hamburger patty”.

And to think, I came this close to ordering it medium-rare.

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