HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – WhistleStop is back! The two-night barbecue staple has kicked off yet another year of competition and this time, in a new place at John Hunt Park.
In years past it’s been at the Historic Huntsville Depot, then after being canceled last year, organizers tell me bringing it back meant time for a change– and multiple competitors have told me today they like all this space, but more importantly, they’re happy to be competing again.
“Its just good to be back,” 12-year competitor on team ‘Brew-N-Que’ Alan Brubaker said.
This would be the festival’s 21st year of barbecue competitions; however, COVID-19 forced a cancelation last year, so this is the 20th anniversary.
“COVID came in and we just couldn’t safely do WhisteStop and we didn’t feel good about doing that. This year, while we still have some issues with that, we’re at a larger location at John Hunt Park and we have distanced everything,” Organizer Beth Goodwin said.
Goodwin says while it was perfect timing finding a larger space that allows for social distancing, the plans to move had been in the works since 2019.
“We had decided that it was time for us to move. We’re sort of locked in there at the Depot, there’s so much construction going on downtown that this just made more sense,” Goodwin said.
While there are a number of changes this year, one being two months later this year, the festival still benefits the EarlyWorks Family of Museums, but the proceeds are going towards a new initiative: STEM!
Earlyworks is expanding their science, technology, engineering and math initiatives to support a growing demand from younger kids.
The museum started as a history museum and will stay true to that as they transition into a History and Science museum.
Any leftover funds will be used to support a number of projects Earlyworks has not been able to do over the past year, as their biggest fundraiser, this event, was canceled.
“This is our largest fundraiser and it hurt. I mean we’re a nonprofit, and all nonprofits took a hit last year, a lot of people did. Last year was a tough year for our country and our world but we’re trying to come back this year,” Goodwin said.
Competitors and judges flock from all over the country, and organizers are offering something new for festivalgoers to experience as many competitors’ food as possible with a number expanded tasting opportunities, one that could lead to the crowning of a wing king of their own.
“We have the wing thing competition. You’ll pay $10, you get a plate full of wings and a soft drink then you vote on who’s the best,” Goodwin said.
In past years, the food has been mouthwatering and cookers this year say they’re going to bring the heat yet again.
“We were whittling on the meat last night, it’s looking good, trimming it up good. We’re going for the Gold, we’re pretty confident in that,” ‘OOPS’ team member Will Jones said. ‘OOPS’ has been a key competitor since the very first WhistleStop festival 20 years ago.
“We always want to win and we usually do win because judges dig us,” 15-year competitor on team ‘Swinefield’ William Ingram said.