Each October, a friendly culinary clash in Napa features two cooks competing to impress diners with their best barbecued meats. But the payoff from the banquet extends far beyond the guests savoring hundreds of plates of brisket, pulled pork and ribs – and all the way into local schools, where children and teenagers take up music using instruments and scores paid for by the diners.
The ninth annual Napa Valley BBQ & Beer Battle on Sunday treated more than 300 visitors at The Village at Vista Collina Resort to a repast of smoked meats alongside the homey trimmings of bacon-jalapeno macaroni and cheese, baked beans and coleslaw. After partaking of dishes prepared by Woodhouse Barbecue and Bartlett’s Barbecue, diners were encourage to cast their votes using poker chip-style tokens for one team or the other – all while sampling wines and craft beers from across the North Bay.
Long after the last plates were cleaned, though, the barbecue would leave its lasting mark in the music rooms across the Napa Valley Unified School District. Thousands of dollars from the event make their bands, orchestras and choirs possible.
“We really believe music is a way to engage kids in their schooling, across the board,” said Jennifer Stewart, executive director of the Napa Valley Education Foundation, which has sponsored the BBQ & Beer Battle since 2011.
The barbecue showcase is the main fundraiser for the foundation’s Music Connection program, which began in the 1990s and underwrites music education and supplies for some 6,000 students in the Napa Valley Unified School District, according to Stewart.
Proceeds support the purchase of instruments to be rented to band and orchestra members free or at low monthly rates, and also pay for printed music, summer instructional camps, and introductory courses for those not yet singing or playing an instrument.
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As diners gathered beneath the numerous square parasols of The Village’s central lawn, they were serenaded by a jazz trio playing from a nearby platform – an ensemble that included two of NVUSD’s music instructors, who could appreciate their guests’ largesse as well as anyone.
“We get no money from the district – all the support, all the money comes from the foundation,” said the drummer, Alan U’Ren, the band, strings and choir director at Redwood Middle School. “They rent the instruments to the kids, they get sheet music, they get all the little things the kids need – and the big things too.”
A longtime Vintage High music director described the ways in which outside fundraising opens a path to musical appreciation that many families with children otherwise could not afford – particularly when students can take up the violin, trumpet or flute without their parents spending hundreds of dollars.
“Right now, there’s 650 kids playing an instrument (in the district) as we speak, so it’s big,” said Bill Gantt, who retired from Vintage two years ago. “People need to see it, need to feel it. They need to know there’s 650 elementary school kids out there, and another 500 playing strings, and another 300 doing vocals. My goal is to bring it to everybody’s front door and let everybody know it’s happening.”
Sunday marked the BBQ & Beer Battle’s move from the Napa Valley Marriott to Vista Collina’s central lawn, which opened along with the resort in August 2018. An all-weather venue of synthetic turf shaded by several dozen square parasols, the 16,000-square-foot lawn is surrounded by an array of wine sellers at the base of the three-story Vista Collina building, and has become a weekly hub for culinary and wine events in south Napa.