LITTLE COMPTON — The Little Compton chicken barbecue, that in normal years takes place every August on Veterans Field west of The Commons, will be back again this year but at a new site.
Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards at 162 West Main Road, a few miles north of the center of town, will now be the venue for the event, set to take place Saturday, August 10, from noon to 4 p.m.
The smell and smoke of barbecuing chicken, the sound of music, an auction and the vending of old-time wares, will all be present. Missing from this year’s event, however, will be the children’s amusements, entertainment, fireworks, and evening festivities that have always been part of the occasion in the past when it was held on The Commons.
The location switch was made necessary by the renovation of Wilbur & McMahon School — modular classrooms now sit on Veterans Field.
The venue change came about through an out-of-the-blue telephone call in mid-May from a representative of the vineyards to Penny Walker, president of the Little Compton Village Improvement Society (LCVIS) which for years has sponsored the barbecue.
“We’d heard they weren’t going to have it this year because they didn’t have a space, so we called to make sure the event continued as it has in the past,” said Rick Simone, spokesman for the vineyard.
Would Ms. Walker like to hold the group’s annual barbecue at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, asked the representative?
After touring the vineyards with a staff person on May 20, Ms. Walker’s answer was a decided yes.
“My first reaction was, will it work,” Ms. Walker said. “Then I thought, well okay, we’ll have to switch the event more toward adults. It may be a good thing to change the whole ambiance of the barbecue.”
Some features of the barbecue this August will be the same as in years past, but much will be different.
The four-hour event itself this year will be held during the afternoon in an open field directly opposite and to the north of the main winery building at Carolyn’s.
It will feature broiled chicken prepared by Ronnie Potter — a half chicken slathered with his homemade sauce, potato salad, cole slaw, a roll, drink and dessert, all for $15. A cash wine bar will be provided by the Vineyard.
The Little Compton Flea, populated by local vendors and merchants, a silent auction, a braided rug exhibition (vintage and new) and sale will also be on site.
The auction will feature a reproduction pitcher and bowl, a shadow box with miniatures, a hand-braided wool rug, gift cards from local businesses, a high tea for 10 in a home, and more.
Music by the Spindle Rock River Rats will be performed from 1 to 3 p.m.
But missing this year will be activities that in years past have occupied the evening hours after the broiled chicken has been all consumed, and that have been sponsored by or arranged through the town, not the LCVIS. They include live music, and performances by the Ocean State Summer Pops Orchestra, the ice cream stand and snack bar, and most notably the 20 minute fireworks display that usually began after dark, about 9 p.m. or so.
The LCVIS, a non-profit organization founded in 1913 (which this year is celebrating its 100th birthday) operates the 190-year-old Brownell House, in part with funds it earns each year from the barbecue.
The old house is located on the west side of The Commons and directly abuts the Veterans Field barbecue venue. A residence until 1915, it has become a meeting house for the community, and once served as the first town clerk’s office.
Since 1915, through a trust, the LCVIS has maintained the Brownell House.
But escalating costs of upkeep, and the costs of the barbecue itself, have put a pinch on funding.
“One of the biggest expenses of the barbecue was bringing in the amusements and entertainment for children,” Ms. Walker said. There were tractor pulls, Tony the Dancing Cop, inflatable bounce events (e.g. a pirate ship bouncer, a jousting ring), inflatable round cages for human bowling, a dunk tank, a dance troupe, and so forth.
“Ticket sales for these events never covered the costs for them, and the costs ate into the profits from the barbecue,” Ms. Walker said.
At the same time, insurance costs and heating costs for the house increased. Laws passed after the Station night club fire required that the house install separate telephone systems and electrical upgrades for fire protection purposes.
“The trust requires us to maintain the house,” Ms. Walker said.
The Brownell House is used as a gathering place for many local organizations, she said — the Little Compton Visiting Nurse’s Association, the Red Cross, Tuesday Girls, Women’s Resource Center, Alzheimers’s Support Group, garden clubs, the Little Compton Scholarship Foundation, and others.
“We do not receive town funding,” Ms. Walker said.