Rodney Mitchell was bored sitting at home on Saturday in Nashville, so he and his wife decided to go to downtown Rocky Mount to enjoy, for the first time, the Eastern Carolina BBQ Throw Down.
“I said, ‘Let me go out here and see what they’ve got’,” Mitchell said of the 12th annual autumn event.
The event, which is held over a two-day period, is set adjacent to the Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station.
The event is the scene of food vendors and plenty of music, but also includes bounce houses for children, business booths, community service booths and a row of old-time and modern automobiles.
As for his impression of the event on Saturday, Mitchell said, “They’ve got it. I love it.”
Mitchell is quite fond of made-in-Detroit vehicles from yesteryear, noting the old saying, “They don’t make ’em like they used to.”
He was looking at a red 1963 Chevrolet Corvette.
“I don’t want to sit in it,” he said. “I might not want to get out.”
The first-time attendees included Nash County couple Brandon and Bridget Keener.
As for what brought the Keeners out, Brandon Keener said, “It just seemed like plenty of fun things to do with the kids and the family — and I’m a car guy myself. So I wanted to check out some old cars.”
Brandon Keener said what stood out to him were the red Corvette and a 1971 purple Dodge Challenger. He also likes old trucks and noted an adjacent red Chevrolet C-10 pickup.
He also said, “We’re looking forward to trying some of the local fare.”
Brandon Keener was pushing his and his wife’s two toddler daughters.
Bridget Keener said she and her husband are from the Washington, D.C., area and moved to the Twin Counties because they were seeking the quiet life and a slower pace.
“It’s too much zoom-zoom-zoom,” Bridget Keener said of traffic in the nation’s seat of government.
The event’s first-time attendees included neighbors Lee Substelny and Tom Snyder from the Durham area.
The two were planning to go to City Lake Park, where the N.C. Model Shipbuilders were hosting their 13th annual radio-controlled 1/96 scale model fleet run.
Substelny said after hearing about the BBQ Throw Down via a newscast in the Triangle, the plan was amended to include going to the BBQ Throw Down for lunch.
“It appears to be a good community event, except the music is too loud,” Substelny said of the band playing classic rock and roll. “We could hear this, like, five blocks away.”
While he likes rock music, he said of the volume, “It’s just too loud.”
He paused briefly and added, “Maybe I’m old.”
Snyder is retired but he was in the speciality flooring business, including at work sites in Rocky Mount.
“I know the downtown area is not up to where it should be on retail, but your town is clean,” Snyder said.
He said he told Lee, “No matter where we’ve driven through town, it’s really spotless. It looks good. I’m just hoping people will come back and invigorate your downtown area.”
The crowd size was thin at first before gradually increasing.
Among the early arrivers were Kevin Stallings and his mother, Janice Stallings. The two have been regulars at the BBQ Throw Down for years.
“It’s a good way for people to get to know one another,” Janice Stallings said.
As for how the event has changed through the years, Stallings said, “You’ve got more vendors right now, a better selection of food, better music — and the people. The people are super.”
She enjoyed eating a barbecue sandwich moments earlier, noting, “It’s got a little bite to it, but it’s good.”
The BBQ Throw Down for the first time included a booth set up by the Civil Air Patrol Tar River Composite Squadron.
First Lt. Liz Dunster said, “A number of our members that live in Rocky Mount told us what an awesome place this would be — and what a great opportunity it would be to get out in our community.”
As for whether the Civil Air Patrol’s new presence at the event was going to result in securing more cadets, Dunster said, “Well, actually, we’ve had a couple of youngsters stop by.
“There was a girl that was particularly interested,” she said. “She’s at Northern Nash High. Every time we mentioned the name of any airplane, she got very excited. So we hope to see her.”
As the BBQ Throw Down progressed, a line of attendees formed at the Chop Shopps stand to purchase barbecue.
Denaide Dickens and her family have been serving event customers for five years from the Chop Shopps stand.
Asked about what is key to being able to serve good barbecue, Dickens said, “A lot of love, man, a lot of love.
“And people want to make sure they get their money’s worth,” she said. “And so I think the difference here is ours is good, but we also give people a little bit more than they probably expect to get.”