Now in its 24th year, the Barbecue on the River festival brings people to Paducah from miles around and is also becoming an attraction to people who are boating the Great Loop.
The Great Loop is a circular boatway from south Florida along the Atlantic coast up the Hudson River in New York and into the Great Lakes to Chicago, where the Loop gets into mid-America's river system, traveling down the Illinois River to the Mississippi.
From there, some boaters travel on to New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico and on to Florida, while others get onto the Ohio River, picking up the Tennessee River at Paducah to the Tombigbee River and on to the gulf.
People navigating that route are members of America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association (AGLCA) and are called "Loopers." It takes about a year to complete the 6,000-mile journey.
With its new transient boat dock at the riverfront, Paducah has become an attractive spot for Loopers to put in before getting onto the Tennessee River and heading for the gulf. Some people who haven't heard of the festival are learning about the event on the radio or online while winding their way down the river.
Mark and Lezlie Snyder of Ingram, Texas, began their route aboard the Antonia from Florida on Jan. 7 and put in at Paducah on Thursday, the first day of the barbecue festival.
"We just got lucky as far as the festival goes," Mark said. "There's about 200 other boats doing (the Loop) this year, and the other Loopers talk to each other, and they let us know there was a barbecue festival.
"The Loopers were talking about (Paducah) having a new dock that floats, and it's a good stop. Everybody loves the ones where you can pull up and then walk the town."
The Snyders were making their first circuit of the Great Loop, flying a white AGLCA burgee or pennant from their boat. Once they complete the loop, they will get a gold burgee. They plan on making a side trip down the Tennessee River to Chattanooga before going back to the Tombigbee and out to the gulf.
"We're picking up our daughter and grandkids in Guntersville, Alabama, and then, they're going to ride with us to Chattanooga," Mark said.
Mark enjoys cooking barbecue himself, and he and Lezlie said they looked forward to enjoying the barbecue and other comestibles at the festival.
Tom and Dorthy Wadlow of Stonington, Connecticut, sailed Felix the catamaran around the Loop to Paducah to visit the National Quilt Museum, and like the Snyders, found out about the BBQ as they got closer.
"It was just a lucky break," Dorthy said. "When I called (the museum), they said the barbecue festival was going to be here."
The Wadlows had dinner at the festival Thursday night and enjoyed lunch Friday afternoon.
"We liked it very much," Dorthy said. "We got pulled pork (Thursday) and went over to the beer place and listened to the music."
"It was great. We loved it," Tom said. "We were amazed at how big it was. It just goes on and on and on - it's amazing. This is a bigger town than we realized, and it puts on an amazing festival."
"And it's so great that it's all for charity," Dorthy said. "That's awesome. And the different organizations in town - like, we had corn from one organization, and the beer tent is done by another local organization."
This was the Wadlows' first visit to Paducah, but the quilt museum and the barbecue festival will bring them back.
More Loopers will put in at Paducah to see Barbecue on the River, and as word spreads about the event - and other Paducah attractions - more boaters will want to be kept in the loop.