Local brews, local blues, local cause

Big Brews and Blues festival returns for year six at RiverScape

By Katie Christoff

Photo: [l to r] Eric Jerardi and Gary Gates of the Eric Jerardi Band perform at Big Brews and Blues in 2014; photo: Sarah Browning

Sipping on craft beer outside with live music being played in the background … sounds like summer, doesn’t it?

Diabetes Dayton’s sixth annual Big Brews and Blues on May 15 will kick off the summer festival season at a new outdoor location this year – RiverScape MetroPark. The venue wants to begin hosting ticketed events, and deemed Big Brews and Blues the perfect pilot event.

“They’ve done festivals but wanted to start ticketed events, and said ours was the demographic they’re looking for,” the director of Diabetes Dayton, Susan McGovern, says. “It’s young professionals. Not just a ‘hey, lets go drink beer.’ It’s a young professional beer geek kind of thing. Craft beer is very big in Dayton.”

Indeed, it is. Dayton sees an abundance of similar beer tasting events each year, but Big Brews and Blues sets itself apart. Not only does the outdoor event, consistently held in mid-May mark the start of summer in Dayton, but it’s also the only beer tasting to feature craft, draught beers exclusively. No bottled beers, ciders or wines are served.

McGovern emphasizes the entire event’s focus on locality, from beers to food to performers. Since Diabetes Dayton is a small, independent nonprofit, she’s committed to helping out similar local businesses.

“Diabetes Dayton is a local, independent nonprofit organization; we’re not affiliated with the American Diabetes Association or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation,” McGovern says. “So we really try to promote local independent businesses. That’s why it’s important to have local breweries and restaurants [at the event].”

The beginning

Diabetes Dayton’s spirit of local support is nothing new. For the past few years, McGovern has struck up a deal to coordinate venues with local wine tasting event Fleur et Vin, allowing them to share a tent and save each organization a great deal of cost.

Each tasting event took place at Carillon Park until this year, when the brewery opened there and changed the venue’s demographics. McGovern said after their inaugural event at Carillon Park, she noticed Fleur et Vin’s tents went up a few days in advance.

“I asked if I could donate to AIDS research center, the charity that Fleur et Vin’s funds go to, and we could use their tents Friday,” McGovern says. “It was a really nice partnership because we could go in Friday evening, had time to clean up for Fleur et Vin [which was always on Sunday] and didn’t have to incur total cost of tent rental, which is extremely expensive.”

Though McGovern was sad to end the partnership with Fleur et Vin this year, she’s extremely excited about the new venue downtown.

“We’re very excited to be there,” she says. “I think it’ll be for the better. The more things you can do to pull people downtown, the better.”

She hopes people who work downtown will be able to walk over right after work, and notes parking won’t be a problem since the Dragons are out of town. She’s also excited about the venue’s pre-existing pavilions, because they’ll provide restrooms, electricity and water.

“People usually have cabin fever at that time after winter, especially after this winter,” she says. “It’s nice to get out and have a nice outdoor event. With the blues music and the outdoors, it kind of kicks off spring and summer festival season.”

The brews

Though the outdoor venue is undoubtedly a draw, the main attraction of this fundraiser is the selection of craft beers. David Boston, owner of local Boston’s Bistro and Pub, is credited with “inventing the event.” He has selected the tasting menu since the first Big Brews and Blues six years ago.

“Susan [McGovern] and Diabetes Dayton came to me and asked me to invent the event,” Boston says. “I created it. I was asked to come up with a beer event that would be a good fundraiser.” He’s provided his services for Big Brews and Blues every year since, entirely free of charge.

McGovern seemingly went to the right person. With 30 years in the business under his belt, Boston has developed excellent relationships with local brewers (and excellent taste buds for good beers). McGovern went to Boston for help in the spirit of emphasizing the local.

“Obviously we’re going to include everyone locally,” she says. “I think we’re up to 11 local breweries [this year.] Then we’ll also reach out to other small, independent unique kind of breweries, breweries that people haven’t been to and want to taste their beer.”

Boston’s relationship with these breweries not only ensures an abundance of local beers – it also secures the event some unique and even exclusive beers.

“One of its most unique things is that we’ll take care of and promote local breweries in city, then we’ll feature beers from brewers that I’ve had relationships with in the state of Ohio, then across the U.S.,” Boston says. “Those breweries step up and allow us to have new beers and new launches, which allows us to be unique.”

This year, Boston selected 60 beers from 60 different breweries, focusing on Ohio and especially Dayton.

“It helps to have the best or most staple beers that any one of these breweries can produce,” Boston says. “We’ll take care of and promote local breweries in the city, then those breweries step up and allow us to feature their new beers and new launches.”

McGovern adds none of these breweries will serve out of beer trucks – instead, pourers will be at tables where they’re always facing samplers and can talk to them about the beer they’re about to try. They’ll also begin selling growlers later in the evening, so samplers can take home more of their favorite beers – and, of course, so no beer goes to waste.

Local restaurants will also be on hand, serving food to compliment the brews (and soak up all that alcohol). Boston’s Bistro and Pub will be present, along with a handful of other local eateries. For the first time ever, they’ll also provide a selection of desserts to pair with sweeter beers.

The blues

If Dayton’s favorite pastime is beer, then live music is a close second. This year’s lineup features Doug Hart, Back Talk Blues Band featuring Gary “Guitar” Williams and the Noah Wotherspoon Band as the headliner.

Wotherspoon was recently named winner of the Best Guitar Award at the 2015 International Blues Challenge, and his band, also featuring Rob Thaxton on bass and Brian Aylor on drums, took home second place for Best Band.

“He’s just the nicest guy,” McGovern says.

True to the name, McGovern says they stick to strictly blues acts for the event. They’ve partnered with the Dayton Blues Society and WYSO to help promote the event.

“This has to be true blues,” McGovern says. “No rock or country mix, we want true blues, and [this lineup] really is.”

The cause

Diabetes Dayton’s commitment to supporting all things local stems from its own identity as an entirely independent local organization.

“We get no money from the American Diabetes Association or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation,” McGovern says. “Those organizations are great, but their money goes to a parent organization. Their mission is research for a cure, and our mission is to help people with the stuff they need every day – supplies, classes, camp, that kind of stuff. That’s the difference there.”

Diabetes Dayton is essentially alone in its mission, as one of only three independent diabetes associations in Ohio and the only one serving the southwestern region. McGovern says people drive up from Cincinnati and down from Troy regularly to take advantage of its services.

“Even though it’s called Diabetes Dayton, I don’t really have boundaries,” she says of these commuters. “If they need help and come, we will help them. There are so few programs that do what we do.”

Still, McGovern is astounded by the amount of people who travel for their services. She says a girl from Connecticut even signed up for the summer kids camp this year – surprising for an organization of two and a half staff members with virtually no advertising budget.

“I don’t spend a lot of money on big, splashy marketing campaigns because I need the funds to go right back into the organization,” she says. “I always tell people we’re the little agency that could.”

Although she’s happy to provide these services for a variety of people, McGovern wishes she didn’t have to. According to her, Dayton has a huge problem with diabetes.

“Montgomery County has higher than state and national levels, so people know that coming out to this event is for a really great cause,” she says. “It helps send kids to camp and get supplies for the uninsured.”

Boston attests to this, saying he’s honored to help with such a great cause.

“I’ve been given the opportunity to be with a good organization,” Boston says. “One hundred percent of the money [raised] goes to the people and the cause. I’m glad to be the guy that came up with this event, and I’m glad to be associated with Diabetes Dayton. People know they’re going to come have a really great time, taste some really great beer, hear some really great music and just be with a good crowd,” she says.

Big Brews and Blues will take place Friday, May 15 from 5-9 p.m. at RiverScape MetroPark. Tickets are currently on sale for $30, and will be available at the door for $40. For more information, visit bigbrewsandblues.com or diabetesdayton.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Christoff at  Katie Christoff@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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