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Road Trip - Esperanza Bonanza
May 09, 2011

Where: Marion, Arkansas
Why: Esperanza Bonanza
When: May 5-7, 2011

My husband and I are relatively new to Northeast Arkansas, so when our neighbors invited us to a little something called Esperanza Bonanza in Marion, Ark., we thought it would be a good way to experience one of the most well-known BBQ festivals in the area. We had no idea what we were in for.

I smelled the festival before I could see it. For a solid three days, the amazingly mouthwatering smell of more than 60 giant grills and smokers that were cooking all kinds of meat filled the air. The team that we would be enjoying the next few days with was aptly called “A Great Rack,” and is known for their award-winning ribs. When we first showed up to our team’s tent on Thursday, we expected to see an awning and a grill. What we were met with was the BBQ festival expertise of a team that has been participating in Esperanza Bonanza for the past six years.

A huge tent, complete with tables and chairs and an actual floor that the guys had built that afternoon (to protect everyone from the endless mud that is generally part of a large outdoor festival) became the team’s gathering spot. Tables full of food and drinks, overhead lights, team t-shirts, two fridges full of meat, a grill, a large rotisserie smoker and the ever-present game of Baggo made for a relaxing three days, and the private male and female porta-potties were a nice touch.

More than 60 teams participated in the actual three-day, rain-or-shine event, which featured live music, a barbecue competition, a fair, a rodeo and a golf tournament. The fair was my favorite part. I have been to many fairs before, and I was impressed with the variety of rides and booths available to the more than 15,000 people who showed up for the fun. (On a side note, if you are ever at a fair or carnival and see the “Nemesis 360,” I highly recommend riding it. Awesome.) The Budweiser Clydesdales even made a few appearances, and let me tell you, that made this St. Louis-born-and-raised lady very happy.

In case you’re wondering what exactly Esperanza Bonanza is, it is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that holds the annual festival to raise money to give back to the community. The very first festival was held in 1992 when several businesses in Marion got together for a little BBQ competition. It has since grown into a well-known event that attracts around 15,000 people each year. The actual name Esperanza Bonanza pays tribute to Marion's heritage as the site of Fort Esperanza, the first European settlement in what is now Crittenden County.

A fourth-place finish in the ribs division (a pretty big deal if you consider how many hardcore grilling and smoking teams entered the contest) was a perfect finish to the weekend. Needless to say, my husband and I are already planning on participating again next year.

-Audrey Hanes

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| May 09, 2011 - 9:48 pm
Looks fun!
| May 11, 2011 - 2:07 pm
What a great weekend and for a great cause! Wish we could have experienced it!