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BBQ: A Duncan family tradition
Event slated for Oct. 19 at Knoxville Coliseum


Former President George W. Bush seemed to have fond memories of The Duncan Family Barbecue during his eight years in the White House.

U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. [R-District 2] recalled then Texas Gov. [George W.] Bush’s visit to The Duncan Family Barbecue in October 2000 during Bush’s first presidential campaign.

“And after that, several times when I was around him, he would say, ‘when Jimmy has a picnic, he draws about 10,000 people,’ and then he would laugh as if he’d told a joke,” said Duncan, who is preparing for the 2010 pre-election year GOP invitation event Tuesday evening, Oct. 19, in Knoxville Civic Coliseum.

“Nobody else except me knew what he was talking about, but when the president laughs, everybody laughs.”

Country music legend Lee Greenwood and Elizabeth Dole, former secretary of labor and secretary of transportation whose husband is former GOP presidential candidate from Kansas then Sen. Bob Dole, are other past Duncan event highlighters.


Begun in 1968 by Duncan’s father, the late U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Sr., “My dad just decided to try it, and it worked really good,” Duncan said, adding the inaugural event “drew a huge crowd.”

It is held every October during a November election year — always in the Coliseum.

Though averaging more than 10,000 GOP invitees for the barbecue according to Duncan, “What we’ve found over the years is it’s not the wealthy people who come out ... we get a wide variety of people there,” he said.

“Many people see it as a free night out.”

A large chunk of tickets go out “to all the people who vote in the Republican Primary, which around here is a pretty good number,” Duncan said. “And we invite people from the outer counties, too.”

With doors opening at 5 p.m., and festivities beginning at 5:30 p.m. and running to around 8:30, “We have The Drifters and we have all kinds of entertainment coming,” Duncan said. “We’ve got a couple of bands, and the Crown College 200-Voice Choir.

“And all kinds of things for the kids, we have clowns and face painting,” Duncan added. “A popcorn machine and all kinds of good food.”

Though a barbecue, “We’ve expanded it from that, we’ve got fried chicken,” Duncan added. “One year we had a Elvis impersonator and an indoor fireworks display.”

Duncan said then Gov. Bush happened to be coming to Knox County on Duncan Barbecue day, 2000, for an educational event at a school in South Knoxville that afternoon.

“I thought, ‘oh boy, I’m going to try to get him to the barbecue,’” Duncan said. “They told me I had to call somebody named Karl Rove, who I didn’t even know,” Duncan said of a man later to become President Bush’s top political advisor and deputy Chief of Staff.

Duncan said Rove was “nice,” but explained that Bush “had to be in South Florida to speak at an event for his brother [then Gov. Jeb Bush] at 7 o’clock that night.”

After Duncan said he emphasized how the barbecue draws big crowds, he recalled Rove saying, “‘Let me check into this.’ This was just two or three days before the event.”

Rove said it could be done, but because the Secret Service wouldn’t have time to check out the Coliseum “the only way they’ll OK this is if nothing comes out on the news about it.”

“I thought, ‘How in the world are we going to be able to keep that secret for 24 hours?’” Duncan added. “But somehow we did, and he came in there, and he marched out to the UT Pep Band. He loved it.

“When he left, when he walked back to his limousine in the bowels of the Coliseum, I said, ‘Governor, you’re going to carry Tennessee.’

And he said, ‘If I do, I’ll win the election.’”

 

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