AOT

Altavista On Track (AOT) has been granted $10,000 in seed money for a new Fall festival called Uncle Billy’s Barbecue, Bourbon and Beer Festival.

Jeremy Funderburk, an Altavista native who currently lives in Evington, approached town manager Waverly Coggsdale with the idea for the festival last Fall. Funderburk said Coggsdale liked the concept, and after formally presenting his idea to town council in April, Funderburk became an AOT board member and the group adopted his idea. Current plans are for the festival to take place in English Park from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on October 2. There will be blues and country bands, bourbon and beer vendors, a barbecue contest and ice cream.

“I have a love for barbecue, entertainment and letting everyone have a good time,” Funderburk said about the festival after a recent AOT meeting.

When asked, Funderburk also acknowledged that the event was partially inspired by Uncle Billy’s Day. 

“I felt like there was a void that needed to be filled,” he said.

Uncle Billy’s Day has now been cancelled two years in a row. The Chamber announced earlier this year that it will no longer be hosting Uncle Billy’s Day, and as yet no other groups have stepped up to take responsibility for the event.

“You’re getting an Uncle Billy’s Day-like event,” AOT executive director George Sandridge said In a recent interview about the festival. “Maybe not the exact same event, but you’re getting something in the Fall down at the river at our wonderful park.”

During the town council meeting in which seed money for the event was approved, council member Tracy Emerson suggested the event pay homage to Uncle Billy’s Day in some way, hence its current title.

Though Uncle Billy’s Day was a free event, the new festival will raise money for AOT which, Funderburk said, “can fund other events.”

Funderburk said he hopes the new festival will eventually make enough money for Altavista to host large community events every six to eight weeks throughout the year.

Organizers hope to draw 500 people to the festival this year. Tickets will range in price from $20 for general admission to $40 for a VIP package that will include two drinks, a barbecue sandwich and a commemorative cup. Children aged 5 and under will enter free.

There will also be a magician at the festival and lawn games like giant Jenga, a giant chess board and more. Mike Collins, a Kansas City Barbecue Society-certified pit master who beat Bobby Flay in a televised cook off, has already committed to help judge the event. There are currently 35 slots open for both amateurs and professionals in the barbecue contest.

Funderburk, a steel fabricator by trade, will be making handmade trophies for the barbecue contest.

“Beer and bourbon goes with barbecue,” Funderburk said. “It always has.”

Sandridge said the event’s website should be up and running by July, which will allow ticket sales to begin. More information about distilleries, brewers and competitors will be added to the website as it becomes available. Sandridge also said AOT will begin looking for volunteers to staff the event as it approaches.

“The revenue that’s generated from the event is going towards planning for future events, but also for redeveloping and reinvesting into downtown Altavista,” Sandridge said.

Sandridge said he hopes the festival can become similar to other successful festivals hosted in Richmond, Appomattox, Rocky Mount and other areas.

Funderburk said he wants the festival to draw barbecue competitors and attendees from all over the state, and hopes the festival will some day draw as many as 10,000 people. Others, like Vice Mayor Reggie Bennett, have also expressed a desire to host big events in Altavista.

“I would like to see Altavista be the entertainment capitol of Central Virginia,” Bennett said during discussion of the new festival at a June 8 town council meeting.

When and how the town will achieve that status remains to be seen, but at the same council meeting an outside group received approval and a fee waiver to use English Park and the Booker Building for a two-day blue grass event on April 22 and 23 next year.