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Smoke Signals: Woodstock, revisited (with 'cue)

You know what Aug. 15 is famous for, right? No? A hint: It involved a farmer named Max Yasgur, 500,000 bushy-haired music lovers, and "three days of fun and music."

It's the 41st anniversary of the first day of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. But as it happens, the 15th is also the last day of the 11th annual COF-A-Que Barbeque Competition and Music Festival.


Okay, maybe more a stretch than coincidence. But while not quite Woodstock in scope, COF-A-Que shares some of the same Aquarian spirit. It’s got live bands. It’s on farmland. And as a fundraiser for needy musicians, it shares the view that music can make the world a better place.

Begun in 1999 as a cookoff among four friends with 30 folks in attendance at one of the guy’s backyards, COF-A-Que – COF stands for Circle of Friends – has grown to some 30 competitors and more than 1,000 attendees.

Several years ago, organizers started passing the hat to cover costs. “We got more money than we could use,” says George May, the event’s coordinator and one of the original four. “So we gave the extra, a few hundred, to Jeff.”

Jeff is Jeff Campbell, 48, who lives in Takoma Park and is the founder and director of Hungry For Music, an organization that provides musical instruments free to individuals, groups and even schools that can’t afford them.
Campbell created the nonprofit in 1994. Since then, the outfit has distributed thousands of instruments locally and across the continent, including a sax to a girl in Louisiana, violins to an orphanage in Mexico, and various instruments to Junior Appalachian Musicians, a musical heritage organization based in Virginia.

Originally from Louisiana, Campbell began raising money from an annual springtime Crawfish Boil begun in 1996 by some of the same folks who later began COF-A-Que. In addition to the two fundraising events, Campbell finances the operation through donations, raffles, a grant, and compilation holiday, tribute, and baseball-themed CDs, the latter called “Diamond Cuts” that he produces.

Campbell’s Hungry for Music Records produces the CDs, which include licensed songs from the likes of Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan and original performances from pianist George Winston, roots rocker Dave Alvin, and Texas country-rocker Joe Ely. The 12th "Diamond Cuts" is due out this fall and will include a song by local songwriter Jake Flack and the King Soul band about Stephen Strasburg.

The competitive aspect of the COF-A-Que, while unsanctioned, is serious even as its emphasis is on having a good time and providing for a good cause. “The competition is open to anyone who is passionate about barbecuing, hard-core competitors,” says May, an IT specialist for USDA who lives in Falls Church. “The music part is solidly entertainment. But what’s key for us is the charity part of it.”

Barbecuers compete in 11 categories, from appetizers and sides to pork, ribs, and beef brisket to game and “random meat,” e.g., goat, buffalo, alligator. Judging is on Saturday, from 3 to 5 p.m., with winners announced at 6 p.m. On Sunday morning, there is a breakfast party and open jam.

May notes that while the COF-A-Que website says the event is “invitation only,” it is actually open to everyone. “That wording is a throttle we’re trying to put on it,” he says. “But where you get an invitation, well, who knows?”

Admission to the event is $30. On-site camping is permitted; bring your own tent and gear.
For information on competing or judging in the barbecue contest, or directions to the event, contact COF-A-Que through its website.

Go for the barbecue, stay for the good vibes. Who knows, maybe your contribution will help provide a guitar to the next Jimi Hendrix.

-- Jim Shahin

By The Food Section  |  August 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Smoke Signals  | Tags: Jim Shahin, barbecue  
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