BBQ & Blues: Fort Harrison State Park to host annual music festival


Fort Harrison State Park will host its fifth BBQ & Blues Festival starting at noon on Sept. 16, featuring four bands, five food trucks and plenty of fun.

Don McQuade is with the Friends of Fort Harrison State Park, which organizes the annual festival. He said they got the idea from a similar event that McCormick’s Creek State Park hosts every year.

“They were very helpful in telling us how they set up their original BBQ and Blues festival, what kind of vendors they had and how they publicized it,” he said, adding that the Friends of Fort Harrison started their planning process about a year before the first festival in September 2018.

Part of that planning process was finding the right spot in the park. McQuade said. They settled on a natural amphitheater off the Cherry Tree parking area. That year’s festival had three bands and two food trucks, he said, and attracted about 800 people — not bad for the inaugural event.

“For the next year, the (City of Lawrence) actually reached out to us and offered to co-sponsor (the festival),” he said. “So, we were able to pull in some more performers and some additional food vendors.”

Avariety of vendors will be on-site to provide barbecued meat, sides and desserts, during the Sept. 16 Fort Harrison State Park BBQ & Blues Festival. (Photo courtesy of the City of Lawrence)

With the city’s help, McQuade said attendance doubled the second year and has continued to grow since.

They skipped a year in 2020 because of COVID-19, he said, but the festival returned as an annual event in 2021.

People can bring their own lawn chairs or use picnic tables supplied by the park. McQuade said park staff will put up a “very, very large” awning for those who want to stay out of the sun, and there’s a shuttle — in the form of a hayride — that brings people to the festival from the main parking area across from the sledding hill.

The shuttle is sponsored by Curran Architecture, Context Design and the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority.

Other than the normal fee to enter the park, there is no charge for the festival. McQuade said the Friends of Fort Harrison State Park raises money from the event through sponsorships.

“We’ve bought 15 to 20 new trees that we’ve planted,” he said, giving examples of what the funds go toward. “We’ve done some armoring of some of the trails that have some wet spots in them so that people can avoid those wet spots. We’ve built bridges. We’ve helped with some of the programming that the naturalist does. So all of that goes right back into the park.”

It’s not just about raising money, though.

“One of the goals that we’ve had is to bring in more people through this festival and have them (get) acquainted with the park, especially our local citizenry — Lawrence and Fortville and Fishers and the surrounding areas,” McQuade said. “And to help people get out and realize what a great experience it is to be in the park and all of the variety of things that they could do in the park from hiking and biking and picnicking and programming that the staff does.”

He said Fort Harrison State Park is a great amenity for people living in the greater Indianapolis area.

The performers scheduled for this year’s BBQ & Blues Festival are John Ford of Cincinnati, Ohio; King Bee & the Stingers of Bloomington; and Indianapolis-based Queen Delphine & the Crown Jewels and The Blues Ambassadors.

The bands are sponsored by Katz, Sapper & Miller CPAs.

McQuade said Ford has performed at all the festivals so far, and this will be the fourth year that King Bee & the Stingers will return. Queen Delphine and the Crown Jewels and The Blues Ambassadors were added to the lineup later, providing a more local flavor.

Speaking of flavor, vendors offering barbecue and other treats will be MJ’s Backyard BBQ and Catering, J&J A Taste of Home Catering and Da Blue Lagoon Jamaican BBQ. For those who want dessert, Moo & Lou Frozen Treats and More will be at the festival, and Mo’s Fresh Squeezed Lemonade will offer beverages.

McQuade said all of the food vendors have been with the festival since at least 2019.

He noted that the festival is a success because of its sponsors and all the volunteers who help with organizing, setting up and cleaning up.

Queen Delphine and the Crown Jewels are among the performers for the Sept. 16 BBQ & Blues Festival at Fort Harrison State Park. (File photo)

Performance schedule

Don McQuade of the Friends of Fort Harrison State Park said the Sept. 16 BBQ & Blues Festival schedule is a little different this year, starting an hour earlier than previous events. Instead of a 1 p.m. kickoff, the music starts at noon, he said, and runs through 5:30 p.m.

“That gets everyone home a little bit earlier and gives our staff a little bit extra time to clean up and get ready for Sunday,” he said.

The lineup for performers is:

  • Noon.: John Ford
  • 1:30 p.m.: Queen Delphine & the Crown Jewels
  • 3 p.m.: King Bee & the Stingers
  • 4:30 p.m.: The Blues Ambassadors

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