As one of the founders of the Memphis Barbecue Network, Henry Evans knows a good cooking competition when he sees one. His four-year-old organization is composed of more than 400 barbecue teams and some 1,400 judges who help it organize and run more than 30 contests a year from Miami to Detroit.
But even in Evans' considerable experience, the Smokin' Aces BBQ Championship, which returns to Harrah's Tunica Casino this weekend for its third year, stands out.
"It's a beautiful time of year for one thing, and it's a great place to have it," says the longtime barbecue judge of the event, which he and his wife, Kelly, both working as representatives of the network, helped Harrah's start. "And there's other things for the casual observe to see and to do."
Evans is referring to several planned activities Friday and Saturday that make going to Smokin' Aces more inviting to spectators who might otherwise be stuck walking around watching (and smelling) other people have a good time. This year, festival organizers have introduced a carnival midway with 15 rides, including a Ferris wheel. Other daily attractions include a petting zoo, pig races, and sanctioned cornhole — aka, beanbag toss — matches with $5,000 in prizes.
In the Porter-Leath Pig Pen BBQ Lounge, visitors can get food and drink and also participate in the People's Choice barbecue competition. The Pig Pen is also the site of a meet-and-greet Saturday with Disney star Peyton List of the sitcom "Jessie" from 3 to 6 p.m. as well as live music Saturday night with Memphis' FreeWorld from 3-6 p.m.
Saturday winds down with a concert by '60s rock favorites The Grass Roots from 8 to 10 p.m., the authors of such hits as "Let's Live For Today" and "Midnight Confessions."
And then there is the main event, the barbecue competition. More than 60 teams, a 20 percent increase over last year, will be vying at the this year's Smokin' Aces in two divisions — professional and "challenger" for the backyard barbecuers — with more than $40,000 in prizes, including $5,000 for the grand champion, on the line. The winner also gets a free bid to the Memphis Barbecue Network Championship in the spring.
The Smokin' Aces Festival is open to the general public Friday 3-10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday noon-8 p.m. Admission is free. Ride wristbands are $15 Friday and $20 Saturday-Sunday. For more information, visit smokinacesfestival.com.
At area casinos this week ...
Fresh from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, where she headlined a non-partisan concert for the troops and made headlines when she proclaimed GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan "cute," country singer Sara Evans comes to Horseshoe Casino's Bluesville (1021 Casino Center Drive, Tunica Resorts, Miss.) Friday night. The Missouri native is promoting her first record in six years, the 2011 release Stronger, which features the singles "A Little Bit Stronger" and the current "Anywhere."
Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $42.50 and are available at the box office and through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 800-745-3000 or visit horseshoetuncia.com.
"Saturday Night Live" veteran Tim Meadows brings his stand-up act to Harrah's Tunica Casino's Funny Bone comedy club this weekend. Meadows, recently seen in buddy Adam Sandler's movie "Jack and Jill," is best known as one of "SNL's" longest-serving cast members.
Also at the Funny Bone, on Tuesday, comedian Rob Little ("The Best Damn Sports Show Period," "Nick Swardson's Pretend Time") begins a six-night stand that takes him through next weekend.
Showtimes for Meadows: 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday; 7, 9:30, and midnight Saturday; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 and $25.
Showtimes for Little: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. Tickets are $10. Funny Bone tickets are available by phone at 662-357-4242 and online at funnybonetunica.com.
Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis closes out its "Parks After Dark" concert series with a performance by former Bad Company lead singer Brian Howe. The British vocalist got his start in the early '80s with Ted Nugent before joining original Bad Company drummer Simon Kirk and guitarist Mick Ralphs in a new version of the band.
Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available at the box office and online at southlandgreyhound.com. For more information, call 800-467-6182.