WILLIAMS, Ariz - Two of Williams' most anticipated annual events are joining forces this year, promising to give you an unforgettable weekend of barbecue, rodeo and fun.
The third annual Northern Arizona Barbecue Festival (NAZBBQ) and the 34th annual Cowpuncher's Reunion Rodeo will be offering a unique opportunity for fun-seekers to get their fill on June 15-16.
"It's just a country theme of beer, barbecue and rodeo," NAZBBQ Organizer Chuck Vaughn said. "Sort of like, if you have a cowboy hat, you best wear it. Cowboys are known for being out on the range and cooking over an open fire, which lends itself to good old barbecue."
Professional barbecue teams from around the country will converge on Williams to smoke brisket, ribs, chicken and pork at the Visitor Center's parking lot.
The contest is Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBA) sanctioned and teams will earn points in this State Championship Event with over $10,000 in prize money. Though Vaughn said the pot could increase if more teams enter the competition.
"If we get over 31 teams, the prize money will grow by the amount of teams we add, up to 40 teams," he said. "There is a chance the $10,000 prize money could grow to almost $12,500 if we fill up on teams."
The official kickoff to the festival, spearheaded by the Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce and Special Olympics Arizona, is 6 p.m. June 15. When the gates open, smoke will fill the air and team cooking will be in full swing. In some cases, teams will smoke beef brisket for up to 17 hours. Visit the beer garden featuring local and national favorites and music on the main stage with Cottonwood based band, Aces and Eights from 7-10 p.m.
Barbecue dinners will be sold by some of the competitors beginning at 6 p.m. Additionally, a few lucky visitors will be asked to help judge an impromptu "BBQ Throw-Down" competition between two of the teams.
On June 16, the gates open at 10 a.m. Tickets can be purchased for tastes of the barbecue prepared by the professionals. Make sure to enjoy more music from the main stage with your barbecue with bands booked at 11 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. while the contest is in full swing.
The festival's main sponsor is Grand Canyon Brewery. Also sponsoring the event is the Grand Canyon Railway, KAFF Radio, APS, Bearizona, Waste Management and the city of Williams.
NAZBBQ is looking for sponsors and volunteers to join in the fun. Go to NAZBBQ.com or experiencewilliams.com for more details. Admission is free both Friday and Saturday.
Meanwhile, over at the Williams Rodeo Grounds, the 34th annual Cowpunchers Reunion Rodeo will be in full swing. Spectators are welcome to watch cowboys and cowgirls of all ages compete daily in both individual and team competitions. Gates open daily at 1 p.m.
"We decided that having these two events on the same weekend will benefit all of us," Organizer Terri Runston said.
It's not a rodeo event with fancy bull riding or things like that. It's just a showcase of ordinary skills that extraordinary cowpunchers use every day out on the range. Participants in the rodeo not only demonstrate their superb skill in the arena, but also use that skill on a daily basis.
Competitions include wild horse racing, wild cow milking, calf roping, bronc riding, ribbon roping, steer riding for children and team roping events. Team roping events include all girl, 12 and under, 16 and under mix, team tying. In order to compete in the reunion rodeo, participants have to work on a ranch or be somehow involved in the cattle industry.
Besides the rodeo itself, there will be vendors, food and entertainment throughout the weekend. Dances will be held 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday in the barn. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Their Calcutta auction has become quite popular according to Runston, with some of the proceeds split between the Cowpuncher's Crisis Fund and the Arizona Cowpuncher's Scholarship Association.
The Cowpuncher's Crisis Fund is a non-profit formed to raise funds to assist families of Arizona's working cowboys during a crisis situation primarily caused by accident or illness.
Tickets will be available at the Williams-Forest Service Visitor Center as well as at the gate the day of performance. The rodeo starts at 1 p.m. daily.
For more information on the reunion rodeo, call Runston at (928) 853-6495.