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'Please Bacon Responsibly'

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | FEBRUARY 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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The following account is a complete mess. 

I’m sorry. The Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival (BaconMania VIII) in Des Moines on Jan. 31 was designed on such a grandiose scale and executed so flawlessly that describing it in one single go would fail to capture even a sliver of how thoroughly enjoyable — gleeful, pure bliss — my afternoon in Des Moines was. I could have been 10 different people having completely different experiences from open to close in the Iowa Events Center and still fail to form a complete story. 

It was much more than just eating bacon. It was a lot of bacon. It was an All-American collision of bacon, professional wrestling, Las Vegas entertainment, and bacon — with some bacon-loving Icelanders thrown in for good measure.

The stage

The impressive volume of the festival, the physical space from first to fourth floor of the Iowa Events Center stuffed with things and people … and bacon … demands explanation. 

As our journalistic troupe — me, photographer Alyssa Hitchcock, and Justus Flair, an out-of-place vegetarian — said our goodbyes at the end of the day, Marshall Porter, Iowa Bacon Board chief bacon officer, strategist (according to the website), and my guide through much of this experience) said this was the first, or one of the first, events to use the building’s space so completely. 

The first floor: “Bacon Education Center.” We got our press credentials and our wristbands while missing a probably informative presentation about bacon science and technology. Also, free beer samples. (Try some Lagunitas sometime.)  

The second floor: “Bacon Fellowship Hall.” The meat (yes) of the thing, all of which I will try to explain eventually. Most of the food vendors split between a main stage for musical performances — including a convincing Elton John impersonator in a convincing Elton John cover band, Elton and Billy: the Tribute — a bacon-eating contest, and the BaconMania wrestling ring. Beer was sold in the main hub, and lots of other little corners.

The third floor: “The Bacon Strip,” a nod to the Las Vegas Strip, included burrows titled the Biker Bar, the Hy-Vee Wrestling Lounge, and the Farmland Sumo Lounge. Lots of little activities, little bands, and more places to buy drinks. 

The fourth floor: “Club Sizzle.” Dark, loud. Bass. Beer. 

The experience

Looking out over the Bacon Fellowship Hall was like watching a 128-tile by 128-tile Rubik’s Cube slowly trying to solve itself. The lines of people circling, thousands of them, flowing alongside each other with no floor to be seen between were memorizing, pause-for-picture worthy. All these people here for all these bacon festivities. Amazing. Breathtaking. And then a wacky, waving, inflatable-arm tube man, two stories tall, smacked his bacon-patterned face against the window. The unfaltering smile. “Hey, buddy. Wake up, buddy.” 

We three with our press passes boasting pictures of a “Macho Man” Randy Savage look-alike, had been down there minutes before. Almost Elton John called us his Tiny Dancer and asked that we hold him closer. I learned about Uncle Dave’s 2012 Iowa State Fair award-winning bacon, its smoky secrets, and I was lucky enough to meet a vacuum-sealed slab of the stuff forged with the recipe at Corwith’s Locker in Corwith, Iowa. But I was unlucky enough to not try some; they had given away 500 pounds of samples in two hours. 

We walked around some. I took note of different bacon shirts people were wearing and different bacon signs the walls were wearing (“Drink First, Bacon Later” and “Please Bacon Responsibly”). I bought a beer. 

Oh, that’s right, I was supposed to eat bacon. At a stand called Melts Without Borders, I tried a “bacon puff” — a buttermilk biscuit stuffed with bacon and cheese. Not bad. Then I spotted bacon ice cream being sold from the Iowa Machine Shed. Bacon and caramel in vanilla. Winner. Tiffany Evans, the woman working at the stand, said it had sold 50 gallons of the bacon/caramel/vanilla concoction by 12:30. Holy cow, Tiffany, that’s a lot. 

Now let’s go upstair — wait. Free koozies compliments of Berkwood Farms: “Bacon made me its b****.” Close enough. And then we were on the escalator going up to the third floor, and then we were looking down upon the Bacon Fellowship Hall, as I said. 

The third floor was relaxed, a nice break. People were breaking off into one of six “clubs,” each with its own theme. We ducked into the Tiki Bar, and a seven-person ukulele ensemble on the small stage was playing a spry cover of that cute Vance Joy song about some girl and her connection to ocean rip tides or something. Someone in the Biker Bar told our photographer she couldn’t use some of her photos because he was in them. He also claimed to be from the Des Moines Register. We scrammed like children. 

On my escalator ride back down to the second floor, I stood behind 2011 WWE Hall of Fame inductee “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, failing to recognize him until it was too late and subsequently blowing the best opportunity to interview a celebrity I’ve ever had. 

But I did get sort of a celebrity interview. After the bacon-eating contest, Porter put me in touch with a fellow from Iceland, someone responsible for the largest pork production company in the little country. “Geirsson” is the name in my notebook. I remember him correcting my spelling. He estimated that there were 16,000-plus people in attendance that day. Iceland has about as many people as Des Moines, so meeting an Icelander felt like a rarity, a real treat. We yell/discussed the island country’s very own bacon festival under the drowning sounds of a “Wipeout” performance by Brim, a surf-rock band from his country. This strongly forged bacon connection between Iowa and Iceland is a curious one. 

If you’re still following along with these sporadic thoughts and stories, I applaud your curiosity. It’s worth taking some of this limited space to clarify that I probably witnessed less than a hundredth of the Bacon Fest experience. All of the food I didn’t manage to taste, all of the festivities I failed to partake in … there was simply too much to see and do and too little money and time to do it. 

The glory

Porter took us through the masses and behind a black curtain to a service elevator, the “secret way,” as he called it. During the ride, he said that on any other day, [the Iowa Bacon Board] consists of normal people, but that on that day, those people get to throw one of the best parties ever, and it was especially nice they didn’t have to do it in their own houses, perhaps hinting at the festival’s inception in a log cabin almost a decade ago. I appreciated his honesty and energy.

On the third floor, as I almost knocked over a divider much to the joy of the woman I stumbled in front of — whom I was quick to tell didn’t see anything, she claimed the BaconMania title belt from behind a Farmland booth. It was heavy. The worker wheeling a cart of steaming bacon goodies in the elevator ride back down said so when he was allowed to hold it. And then we were again down to the second floor for the Main Event. Bacon the Immortal vs. Tofu and Turkey Bacon featuring the Randy Savage look-alike, Canadian Bacon — a guest challenger, and the man himself, Hacksaw Jim Duggan. 

I’ve never purposefully been to a live professional wrestling match, and I’m not sure if I fully understand why or why not. Sure, it’s a bunch of dudes in Speedos with words on their butts pretending to hurt each other. But the acrobatics were impressive and the energy even more so. I buried myself a little deeper into the crowd when, after stopping where Porter had left us to go deliver the belt, two women behind me started viciously badgering me about my accidental butting to the front of the mob. 

“He’s from Canada. F*** Canada,” exclaimed someone next to me when Canadian Bacon, in his Canadian-flag Speedos, elbow dropped Bacon the Immortal. When it seemed that Bacon the Immortal was on the ropes, all hope lost, Hacksaw Jim swung his iconic 2x4 (wrapped in what I believe to be bacon duct tape) in the air and started his famous “U-S-A” chant, the crowd joining in and giving Bacon the Immortal the strength to reach Duggan for the tap-in.

Hacksaw Jim proceeded to whomp the three challengers into submission, and after a high-flying, off-the-ropes assault by Bacon the Immortal, the fight was over, Bacon the Immortal, Hacksaw Jim, almost-Randy Savage, and a Bacon Priest (who I hadn’t noticed at all and was very surprised to see) standing victorious with their hands in the air. 

The magic

I spent the rest of my bacon bucks quickly like a child with no self-control in a toy store, sampling a bacon-wrapped corn dog, chicken-fried bacon, and some bacon cinnamon roll bites. As one final huzzah before the impending snowstorm struck, the group decided to head up to Club Sizzle. At first it didn’t seem too spectacular, mostly because I have a personal distaste for loud, rhythmic DJ music in a dark place. 

But as we were leaving, yet another spectacle: ribbon acrobatics above the stage, 15 feet in the air, three women twirling in a display of strength and agility to the sound of the music in the bacon-gobo strobe lights. It was then and there, with this seemingly excessive icing on the cake, that I finally realized the overwhelming feeling, a sense that, while I couldn’t possibly hope to have experienced everything at the festival, I was still simultaneously a part of it all, perhaps because of the illusion of the gigantic space shrunken by the roof above. Actually a pretty cool experience. 

Conducting an appropriate journalistic exploration of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival would not have sufficed, but in my attempt to do the event justice, I realize the truth that undermines what little validity this piece has: You just had to be there … at least six times. 

I tried a fraction of the available food, saw only a handful of the many varieties of bands playing. To put it optimistically, it had something for just about everyone. Thankfully, this unsatisfactory taste in my mouth gives way to the feeling that it was one of the best afternoons I’ve had. 

Back to that scene when we were leaving. Porter expressed his interest in expanding the event even further, using even more of the facility’s space. It could be a lot to stomach, but then again, why slow down? Embrace the high-octane, energetic, gleefully excessive nature of bacon culture. 

Marshall Porter:

‘Disneyland isn’t just a theme park. The Grateful Dead didn’t do concerts, it did shows. And this, well, it’s not a bacon festival. It’s a Bacon Happening.’


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