Red Dirt BBQ Fest

Tyler, TX
Downtown Tyler, TX

For third year in a row Downtown Tyler has hosted The Red Dirt BBQ and Music Festival.  Since its inception, I’ve always wanted to attend, but was not able to go due to weddings.  After seeing pictures from last year’s festival, I told my wife I wasn’t missing this year no matter who is getting married.  My wife took notice of how serious I was and to show her support, she purchased tickets for my birthday.

This year’s festival hosted 20 BBQ joints from Tyler to Houston and the music was headlined by the Turnpike Troubadours.  Tickets come in three pricing tiers: VIP ($90), General Admission ($50) and Concert Only ($25).  VIP access includes entering the festival at 2 PM, one full hour earlier than GA which allows you to enjoy the BBQ vendors with a shorter line, plus a section in front of the stage for the music.  At 2 PM like clockwork pitmasters who had been up all night cooking started carving their meat masterpieces for the masses.  Lines moved quickly and there was enough food for all.  Most menus included the restaurant’s normal brisket, ribs and sausage, but other joints wanted to have fun with their menu and cooked non-traditional BBQ such as chicken wings and tri tip.
With 20 joints in attendance, and all being some of the best BBQ you can have in the state, it is impossible for me to review each one, so here are some standouts.

Stiles Switch:  Back in January I mentioned Pecan Lodge might have cooked the best beef rib I’ve ever had, but we may have a tie up at the top.

Freedman’s:  Boudin sausage.  I’m normally not a fan, but the soft texture and strong garlic presence was extremely nice paired with their Big Red glazed ribs.

The Slow Bone: Pimento cheese and brisket sliders topped with a chimichurri sauce.  The spicy sauce with the smoky brisket paired with the creaminess of the cheese.

Heim Barbecue:  Bacon Burnt Ends.  I’ve had these before and they are one of my favorite bites of bbq, I just can’t get enough.  In addition to the bacon burnt ends they had fabulous smoked chicken wings which will appear on their bar menu when the new restaurant opens in June.

Heim Barbecue

Meat Church:  Meat Church is unique as they were the only non- restaurant out there.  Meat Church is a BBQ rub and injection company that also caters special events including big events such as The ACM Awards.  Their menu included brisket burnt ends, beef ribs, brisket sliders on a jalapeno roll and pulled pork tacos.  It was easily the most food handed out by any vendor and also some of the best.  I’ve read before that owner Matt Pittman isn’t ready to spend the time it takes to open a restaurant, but it might be time to rethink that even if it’s a one day a week set up like Snow’s down in Lexington.  I’m sure there has to be an old church for sale somewhere in Ellis County.

The Holy Spirit is hovering over today's sermon.

With a full belly it was time for some music.  I’m a big Turnpike Troubadour and William Clark Green fan and had heard positive things about the other bands: Bri Bagwell, Dirty River Boys and The Moonshine Band.  Bri put on a fantastic show considering the stress she had endured earlier in the day with her trailer catching fire.  She engaged well with the crowd and seemed excited to be playing the event.  The Dirty River Boys were every bit as energetic on stage as they are advertised, even doing an instrumental “Chinese Fire Drill”. While I have been a William Clark Green fan for years, this was my first time seeing him live and his set was well worth the wait. He played a nice mix from both his albums, Rose Queen and Ringling Road.  Sadly I had to leave the festival after his set missing out on the other two acts including the headliner.

Red Dirt Music

This festival is first class from top to bottom.  I was so caught up with excitement that I didn’t get to take near enough pictures as I was just kind of enjoying the moment.   Each one of the pitmasters I spoke with was friendly and engaged with the crowd while turning out fantastic meat. Volunteers were friendly, providing smiles and any info you need. Even the vendors hired for the portable toilets were top notch keeping the toilets clean and the hand washing stations stocked.  I kid you not, this was the first time I’ve used a portable toilet where I was actually able to breathe as they were constantly cleaning them.  Little things like this stand out to patrons and it didn’t go unnoticed.

I’m already looking forward to next year, and I’m going all out.  I’m inviting everyone I know, getting hotel rooms (I’d park a camper on Erwin Street if they’d let me) and making a weekend out of it.  This is a festival that founder Chase Colston and the entire city of Tyler can be proud of.  The only negative thing I heard was someone talking about the price of tickets being too high.  VIP tickets are worth every penny of $90, and yet you could still get combo tickets for nearly half that. The cost of food, gas and lodging to visit all these joints individually would cost thousands of dollars and I left the festival stuffed even though I stopped eating 5 hours prior.  In addition to the BBQ, there were 5 phenomenal bands to see. I really don’t know how the festival manages to keep the price as low as they do; it really is a fantastic deal.

Do yourselves a favor and get out your phones and go follow The Red Dirt Music Festival on Facebook and Twitter to see when the 2017 tickets go on sale, because they will sell out fast and you do not want to miss out.