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EGGtoberfest XVI - Part 1

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This year I attended the biggest BBQ festival I’ve ever been to, which drew folks from all over the US, North America and even the World. It is called EGGtoberfest and is a gathering of fans of the Big Green Egg (Eggheads) to celebrate their love for the grill and share great food and great times. This is the 16th annual version of the EGGtoberfest and is held in the Atlanta, Georgia area, which is location of the corporate headquarters of the Big Green Egg Company. The event started out as a one day event for less than 100 people and is now a two day affair catering to nearly 4.000 people. This was my first time attending this event and it won’t be my last.

This blog will be a two part blog describing each of the two days in a separate entries. In both entires I will try to add some information that might be useful if you are thinking of attending the event next year. I am dividing the various parts in each of the two blogs into sections with separate headers. I realize not everyone will be interested in all topics. This way you will be able to jump to the areas of interest for you, and skip past items that are of less interest. The first entry will cover Day 1: the trip down to Atlanta, the location for the show Stone Mountain State Park, the Hotel and the first event the Meet & Greet, the Friday night Meet & Greet. The
PART 2 will cover Day 2: the main event on Saturday, EGGtoberfest XVI.

Background

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I bought my first Big Green Egg in early August 2012. I quickly went from a somewhat skeptical stance of: “It’s only a grill, a good grill, but only a grill.” to being fully absorbed by the cult. I never used my smoker again and it was retired. I have only used my gas grill a couple times. I toyed with the idea of attending EGGtoberfest XV held at Atlanta Motor Speedway last year. But when the opportunity came up to get my long desired permanent Grill Gazebo built at a great price, I jumped for it. I used the money that would have paid for EGGtoberfest to build the Grill Gazebo. I have never regretted that decision for a minute, and I promised myself I would attend in 2013. From what I have since learned, I am guessing that the tickets for EGGtoberfest were already sold out by the time I decided to go last year.

Announcing EGGtoberfest XVI

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In May the details came out about EGGtoberfest XVI. It would be held on Saturday October 12th with the Meet and Greet on October 11. The biggest and most welcome news to me was the venue had been changed. For the last several years it had been held at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This year it would be held at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, GA. It is a well known tourist destination in Georgia. I had been brought there 12 years ago when I was in Atlanta for a business trip. The park is a resort with several resort hotels and a campground on the premises. There were two things I really loved about this venue change. The first was everything was in one location without a lot of traveling. I never left the park in the 4 days I was there. The Friday night Meet & Greet was being held right at the the hotel I was staying at. EGGtoberfest was on the park grounds a short drive away. The second thing I really liked about the new venue was the idea it was a resort, not a NASCAR track. Less noisy and there would be other things to do on site. The weekend of EGGtoberfest was the Columbus Day weekend. In Massachusetts the following Monday is a state holiday. This got me thinking that I would like to make this event both stress free and a mini-vacation. I booked the trip so I would go down early on Friday morning and get out to the park by mid-day. This way I could check in and settle in for a while before attending the Friday Meet & Greet. Even if the flight ran late there would still be plenty of time to get out to Stone Mountain in time to make the Meet and Greet. For the return trip, I would travel home early afternoon on Monday, the Columbus Day holiday back home. This allowed all day Sunday to do what I wanted in the area. The trip back to Atlanta on Monday was a mid-day trip avoiding morning rush hour. Columbus Day is NOT a big holiday in Georgia, so not having to try to make an earlier flight was a good thing.

Travel Details

The other big decision I made was to NOT fly out of Logan Airport in Boston. Instead I decided to use Manchester Airport in Manchester N.H. This regional airport has been one of several regional airports surrounding Boston which have been getting beefed up, expanded and promoted as great alternatives to Logan Airport in Boston. Logan Airport is land-locked on two sides and sea-locked on the other two. It has no more room to grow. Both airports are a 45 minute drive from my house. The difference is Logan is a 45 minute drive only between midnight and 5:00AM, where most of the time Manchester is a 45 minute drive any time. Where this was to be a low key trip, I figured it would be a perfect time to try out Manchester. When I actually booked the trip I was in for several surprises. One disadvantage to Manchester as a starting point was there were only 3-4 flights each day on the various airlines. Fortunately where I was booking my trip 5 months in advance and none of the flights were fully booked. I ended up leaving an hour or so earlier than I might have wanted, but not bad. My flight home was an hour or two later too, but doable. My most pleasant surprise was when I went to book the trip. I booked the flights and hotel room and rental car all through one source and was quite surprised when the price appeared on screen. I had figured it would cost a little over $1,000 for everything and it came up just under $800. My first reaction was to make sure the price included the roundtrip flight, which it did. It may have also been due to the fact I was booking the trip 5 months ahead of time.

Eggtoberfest Tickets

All that was left to purchase the tickets for EGGtoberfest itself, and these didn’t go on sale until August. I was a little nervous about having reservations for everything but the actual event I wanted to attend. There are two types of tickets available: A Tasters Ticket which goes for $40 and a Cooks Ticket goes for about $60. The Cooks ticket includes the use of a Large Big Green Egg furnished by the Company. The Eggs are later sold of at a discount price. The BGE company also supplies the lump charcoal and the Cooks supply whatever food they will be making. There are about 300 Cooks Tickets and where they figure on 2 cooks per Egg that is about 150 LBGEs furnishing food for 3,000 plus tasters. A separate ticket is required for the Friday night Meet and Greet and it went for $25. The Cooks tickets sold out in less than 24 hours and the Meet and Greet tickets sold out in mid-August. I was relieved when I scored my tickets on the first day of availability.

The Trip

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The flight out of Manchester N.H to Atlanta was a study in contrasts. When I left for the airport I expected a 45 minute trip to the airport, the same time it takes to get to Boston’s Logan Airport when you are traveling off hours. It used to be to get to Manchester Airport I would travel North on US Route 3 / The Everett Turnpike through a toll booth until I was just south of Manchester. You then took Route 293 East a couple of exits to reach the airport. Unknown to me, they had constructed a new access road to the airport. Where the old route was like taking the two legs of a right triangle. This new route was like taking the hypotenuse. The shorter distance shaved between 10-15 minutes off the travel time and better yet, it exited the Everett Turnpike just south of the first toll booth. Everything was low key, only a small number of gates, short lines everywhere including security. The flight left on time and there was great weather the entire way. When we arrived on time in Atlanta it was a sunny 80 degrees with low humidity. The contrast in the size of the two airports was immediately apparent. Manchester-Boston Airport (left above) is one of the smaller international airports, Atlanta (left below) is THE biggest. It was like walking through a huge indoor shopping mall to get to the baggage claim. I remembered from my earlier trips to Atlanta they have a single baggage pickup area at the far end of the airport. You could make a long walk through the length of the mall-like airport, but there was also a rapid transit subway-like train that got you there in under 10 minutes and made two or three stops along the way.

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The baggage claim area is a huge centralized area at the far end of the airport with many baggage belts. The baggage doesn’t come in on a one belt per flight flight basis. One belt holds the baggage for a number of flights. One belt might hold the baggage from flights originating on cities beginning with A-C. Another belt serves the cities beginning with the letters D-F. Once you know the system, it is easy enough to get your bags. The problem was I never saw the “rules” posted anywhere which made it confusing at first. There also was a big change since the last time I was in Atlanta. The rental car counters used to surround the baggage area along the perimeter of the room. Now they are in a separate building located about a mile (1.67 km) away. When you are done getting your baggage, you walk across the service drive to a station where you take a monorail to the remotely located rental car center. It was a surprising distance away from the airport, just over a mile would be my guess. There were even several other stops along the way serving some large office complexes. The third monorail station is the rental car center. It is essentially a huge parking garage sub-divided by cross streets. The cross streets serve to provide access to the entries serving the various rental car companies. When you disembark from the train you will find the counters for all the rental car companies up on the second level. You then walk to the portion of the garage serving the company you’ve rented from. There are some definite plusses to this system, but the big minus is it adds probably 20-30 minutes to the time you must plan on leaving early to make your flight.

Stone Mountain

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Stone Mountain Park is located in the City of Stone Mountain, GA. It is Northeast of Atlanta and is considered to be in the outer range of the greater Atlanta Metro Area. the park sits on 3,200 acres (12.9 sq. km) of heavily wooded land. The hotel I stayed in is said to be 16 miles (26 km) from downtown Atlanta. From the Rental Car Center outside the airport is a 36 mile (58 km) trip and It took about 55 minutes to reach the hotel from the airport. Stone Mountain itself is a granite dome rising 825’ (251 m) above the surrounding land and has a circumference of 5 miles (8 km) around the base. It was formed when molten rock found it’s way through a weakness in the earths crust and hardened as it cooled. It is the biggest formation of this type in North America. A lake surrounds the dome on three sides. The land surrounding the dome is a state park and it is said to be the biggest tourist attraction in the State of Georgia. There are areas for golfing, camping, hiking trails, a tram up to the top of the mountain, a scenic railroad around the base of mountain, riverboat rides and laser shows in the summer as well as various historic exhibits and museums.

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The peak of Stone Mountain (1), The hotel (2), The site for EGGtoberfest (3), The Confederate War Memorial (4).


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(Picture 1) The Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort - The Lobby (1), The Room (2), The site for the Meet & Greet (3). (Picture 2) The site for the EGGtoberfest on Saturday was a parking lot called the Yellow Daisy Festival Parking Lot


Confederate War Memorial

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One side of the mountain was carved to form the Confederate War Memorial. It is the largest bas relief sculpture in the world, and is bigger than Mount Rushmore. The surface area is over 3 acres (12,141 sq. m)and the carving is recessed 42’ (12.8 m) into the mountain. Gutzon Borglum began work on the project and gave up work on the project in 1925. He then movied on to work on Mount Rushmore several years later. The project stopped and started several times and sat idle at one point for 30 years. It was finally finished in 1974. The statue shows three leaders of the Confederate States of America mounted on their horses: Jefferson Davis (President) riding “Blackjack”, Generals Robert E. Lee riding “Traveller” and Stonewall Jackson riding “Little Sorrel “. The Sunday after EGGtoberfest, I took the tram to the top of Stone Mountain. The tram passes close by the memorial and gives you a really great view of the sculpture.



The Hotel

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The hotel where the Meet & Greet was to be held was the Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort which was certainly aptly named. The portions of the park you drive through to get to the hotel was heavily wooded. The hotels website says it is a AAA 4 diamond resort. The hotel was located on a hill that sloped steeply down to the lake. When you approach the hotel you climb a large hill on a heavily wooded service drive. When you get near the hotel there is a large relatively level area for the parking lots. From the parking lot side of the building, the hotel appears to be a single story building with a large steeply sloped roof. When you enter the lobby and look towards the rear your find the hotel was built into a large hill sloping down to the lake. The lobby is actually on the top floor and there are four floors below this. My room was on the fourth floor one level below the lobby. I will admit when you leave your room and go to use the elevator to go to the lobby, your initial reaction os to push Down out of habit. My room faced away from the parking area and had a beautiful view onto the lake.



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When you enter the hotel from the front it appears to be 1 story tall. When you walk to the rear of the lobby, you find your are on the top floor of the 5 story hotel (Picture 1) The Meet and Greet was held on a deck which runs behind the Restaurant & Conference Center. The deck begins around the corner behind the restaurant which is the 12-sided building seen in the top middle (Picture 2)


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When you drove up to the hotel, you knew you were in the right place. A giant inflatable Big Green Egg “mascot” was near the entrance to the part of the hotel where the Meet & Greet would be held. There was a Welcome sign over the Lobby. The hotel lobby was decorated with special signage and exhibits for EGGtoberfest as well. There was a display of the BGE “family” near the gift shop. The display confused me at first because it contained a 6th Egg size: the new 2XL. When I looked at the second biggest sized in the display, it looked far bigger than my Large. Turns out it was, because it was really an XL and the big grill was the 2XL. In case you were unaware of it like I was, the 2XL features a grill size of just under 30” (74.3 cm). It was actually announced last May, but is supposedly going to be available for the holidays at the end of this year.




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This display of the Big Green Egg “Family” was set up in the hotel lobby. The Egg in the middle of the back row is the new 2XL


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The hotel has both an indoor and outdoor pool. There are 3 different types of restaurants. There was a large dining room which serves 3 meals a day. This dining room is set up to be buffet style dining. I am not a fan of buffets, but this one had a wide variety of food and the quality was better than most. There was also a sports bar type facility, one level down from the lobby, that held around 100 people. This one had a limited but varied menu for lunch and dinner and the food here was better than most. After my first visit, I actually ended up eating here several more times in lieu of going offsite for food. Lastly there was a coffee shop just off the lobby that had various types of baked good and snacks.








The Rooms

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The rooms were nice. They were medium sized by todays standards, with one exception. The hotel was built before the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) went into effect so the bathrooms were not very big. These days all new rooms have to meet either Group 1 or Group 2 ADA requirements. All rooms must meet Group 1 standards which have minimum clearances that must be held. 5% of the rooms are required to be Group 2 rooms, which have typical clearances similar to those found in public handicapped bathrooms, have grab bars and would be quite a bit larger than a Group 1 unit. When I went into the bathroom I noticed right away this was an old school bathroom: the room was just big enough to accommodate the fixtures with no additional allowances. What was once a typical bathroom size now seems small compared to modern standards. I mention this because if you need an accessible room, you might want to look into what else this hotel has to offer. It is possible they have renovated some of the rooms to meet the modern codes, but the rooms I saw were all pre-ADA. So if you need just a Group 1 sized room, don’t assume all of the rooms meet this modern standard requirement.

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A double queen room.


My room faced the lake which wraps around Stone Mountain on 3 sides. There was a nice little deck, and because it was facing the lake and pine woods, it was isolated enough you didn’t feel like you were in a large complex. It was a very peaceful feeling walking into this room and seeing only thick woods and the lake beyond. This peaceful isolated feeling was sometimes cancelled out by noises from the hotel. The sound insulation was mixed. I never heard conversations or TV sounds from the adjacent rooms, but you could clearly hear conversations out in the hall. You could also hear “plumbing sounds” when the various plumbing fixtures in adjacent rooms were in use. The biggest distraction to me came from the room doors closing. The doors were heavy doors and unless someone took great care to gently close the door, the sound really carried. I was able to sleep throughout the night with no issues. But if you are an extremely light sleeper, you might want to pick up some foam ear plugs at the pharmacy to bring with you. All in all I thought the rooms were very reasonable especially for the price.


The Meet and Greet

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This is where there were a few rough edges. There was conflicting signage and flyers about the time of the Meet and Greet, some said it started at 5:00 and others at 6:00. I got there at 6:00 and found the party had already started and was well under way. Also I was given the wrong directions by hotel employees for getting to the Meet and Greet. To my great surprise I entered the Meet and Greet from the wrong end and found the party had been going for nearly an hour. I spotted someone in a BGE shirt and asked where I was supposed to enter. He told me I needed a badge and that I had to go around to the other end of the large deck to get it. The deck was packed with people and after surveying the situation he said he’d take me. I assured him I could find it, but he insisted and I ended up being glad he helped me. The route was so choked with people he took me through some interconnected storage areas that led straight to the area I needed to find. I never would have known to do that, and I probably would not have been allowed to pass through alone. I thanked the BGE employee and got in line. Imagine my surprise later that night when I watched some YouTube videos from prior EGGtoberfests only to find the employee who helped me wasn’t just an employee. He was a VP who was in charge of the BGE Eggcesories line and company store. I’m sure he had better things to do than show one lost person the way. But he exhibited the type of customer service the BGE Company is known for.

The location for the Meet & Greet was a wood deck that served the conference center area. This deck ran along the back side of the hotel and wound around the angled facade of the hotel l. It overlooked some dense woods, so it felt like it was in a large outdoor room. There were tables set up several places along the center of this linear deck. The tables held trays with various types of catered foods from the hotel’‘s Kitchen. There were several drink tables for beer & wine and soft drinks and water. There were two men playing guitar over by some recessed entrance doors that led into the conference/function room area of the hotel. There were tables set up for the crowd all around the perimeter of the deck along the railing. There were more tables along the outside wall of the hotel. So the food was in the middle surrounded by the tables for the patrons around the perimeter. The food was actually quite good for catered food and I felt at $25 a head, the Big Green Egg company wasn’t looking to turn a profit. The ticket price included beer and wine in addition to the food. The original EGGtoberfest was run as a way of thanking loyal (and some might say rabid) owners of the BGE, I would say though larger, it has stayed true to those roots.

There were already long lines on both sides of the food tables when I got there, so I decided to wait a bit to eat. Also I was looking around for a long time virtual friend who I was going to meet in the flesh for the first time. I have known Craig Dyal virtually for about 10 years now. I met him on the Barbecue Bible Message Board where he went by the handle: dyal_sc. He is about the most prolific griller I have ever seen. He got his first Big Green Egg about 2 years before me and like me, he has moved over to the Egghead Forum on the BGE website. His handle there is also dyal_sc and if you are a visitor to the Egghead forum you should check out his picture posts. There is always something interesting coming off his grill. For the second year now Craig was here to be a cook, together with his wife Elle. Once I located the Dyal’s, the first order of business was to get some food and find a table. At first this looked to be a difficult proposition. Finding an open seat for one looked tough, never mind more. Then we heard they had opened up one of the function rooms just off the deck. This proved to be true and solved the seating problem. We ended up staying there most of the rest of the time. Craig and I already had plenty to talk about. The round table we were at was big, 8 or 10 seats, so we were joined off and on by other fellow Eggheads who joined into the various conversations.

The time just seemed to fly by and the evening was almost over. We went outside to have one more drink before heading up to our rooms. This was one thing I really appreciated about this new location. You didn’t have to drive back from the Meet and Greet to your offsite hotel. You were less than a 5 minute walk away from your room, located in the same facility. I had a great time hanging around with the Dyal’s. We had a running joke going on through the years where he’d mention a house was for sale on his street. My standing reply was your wife would probably hate this because he and I would be standing around talking about BBQ and very little work would get done. At the time I was joking, but now I fear I was way closer to right than I ever knew.

Summary

For me the Meet and Greet was a good time. It did have a few hiccups, but nothing that can’t be fixed. I suspect that some of the issues boiled down to first year in a new venue. The deck area available wasn’t quite big enough for the amount of people. I think it may have been a case where they figured out of a total of YY people XX will be there at the same time. I think more people came earlier and stayed later than they planned on. They had to have known how many people the deck could hold for a function like this. I don’t believe the inside room we ended up in was originally open when I arrived. I think next year they should open one of more of these rooms right away and have signage showing their availability. Secondly all of the materials and signage should have the one right time-not 5:00PM and 6:00PM. That is not a first year in a new venue mistake. Finally the hotel staff needs to be better informed about the locations of the various events. The staff was always extremely friendly and helpful, but they were sometimes misinformed. But the bottom line is Eggheads are so positive and enthusiastic about their grills and using them. So how can you not have a great time when you gather several hundred Eggheads together with some good food and drink?

PART 2 of this blog will cover the Main Event-EGGtoberfest XVI.

RELATED BLOG ENTRIES:
  EGGTOBERFEST XVI - Part 2
  EGGTOBERFEST XVI - 0.15 SECONDS OF FAME

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