Everyone's a winner at the Big Chili Contest

Alan Northcott and Jim Pringle
Alan Northcott, left, and Jim Pringle with their "Texas Sweet Stuff Lone Star" chili. Photo by Ralph Stewart

By Pat Waring - February 1, 2007

"I think it was one of the best we ever had," said WMVY general manager Greg Orcutt Monday about last weekend's Big Chili Contest. "I can't remember a year when it went this smoothly. The PA club was a wonderful place to have it. They were terrific!" Sponsored by WMVY for the 21st year, the annual contest to aid the Red Stocking fund was held at the Portuguese American (PA) Club in Oak Bluffs for the first time ever, relocated after 20 successful years at the Atlantic Connection, which closed last winter.

Mr. Orcutt extolled the generosity of all involved, from WMVY and PA Club volunteers to the bands who played for minimal fees and the cooks who spent their time and money to make the chili, bring it to the club, and serve it to the hungry crowd.

Lorraine Clark, co-chair of Red Stocking, agreed the contest was a great one. "I think they did an excellent job, I've heard nothing but good vibes," she said. "The bands were all excellent, there were few problems, and everyone had a good time. The PA members worked very hard to make sure everything went well and the tent was terrific."

Laurel Redington and Jane Loutzenhiser
On the right, Laurel Redington of WMVY wears her 2007 chili fest shirt. On the left is Jane Loutzenhiser. Photo by Ralph Stewart

The total amount raised for the Red Stocking Fund won't be known until expenses are covered and a final tally is made. But most sources expected it would top last year's profits since attendance, thanks especially to the larger facility, was higher than ever. Hours were longer too, with the after-chili bash continuing until 7 pm. Red Stocking treasurer Barbara Silvia felt confident, predicting the event would net at least $17,500 for cause. The PA Club also stands to receive profits from bar and food sales, which will be put towards their charitable endeavors.

"I thought it was great," said Ms. Silvia. "That tent made everything. People had a chance to go around to different rooms to do different things, and everyone was enjoying themselves."

From Red Stocking volunteers to the upbeat folks at the WMVY table, from long-time contest-goers to veteran chili chefs, it seemed like everyone agreed that this year's contest was a big winner. People raved about the larger space, the generally easy traffic flow, the exceptional chili concoctions, and the top-flight musicians who kept the club rocking all day and into the evening. Many paid tribute to Mike Santoro, formerly manager at the Atlantic Connection, and Edgartown Police officer Mike Delis who, after overseeing the contest for years at its original location helped make the transition to a new venue smooth.

Tom Major
Entrain star Tom Major drums the day away. Photo by Diana Waring

Reports were that hitches were minor and few.

Buses donated by Island Transport made the round-trip loop to the SSA terminal in Vineyard Haven all day, and refreshments held out though some chili entrants saw their pots emptied before contest's end. Again and again praise was ladled up for the PA Club for agreeing to host the big fund-raiser, creating a comfortable and functional set up, and providing countless volunteers. Club members hustled behind two main bars and several outposts, and kept burgers, fries, and chowder coming from the kitchen for those who were chili-ed out. A PA security crew who joined forces with professional personnel was both friendly and watchful, making sure the fun-loving crowd stayed orderly and safe.

Not to say it was quiet. Revelers begin pouring off buses late Saturday morning ready for action - in this case hot chili, loud music, and usually a beer or two. At least half the guests came from off-Island, drawn by WMVY's advertising and the inexplicable lure of the off-season Vineyard. They were not disappointed, nor were the many Islanders who came by to do their part for Red Stocking kids, grab some lunch, and make an afternoon of it.

Greeted at the door by grinning Red Stocking volunteers in brilliant contest T-shirts, patrons entered the old bar, decorated for the occasion with streamers, posters, and balloons, and offering a quiet space for conversation and relaxing. PA members Kaye Manning and Ruth and Claudia Metell held the fort in one corner, selling tickets for a huge-screen TV to be raffled this Sunday. Joe Nunes sat nearby, wishing good luck to ticket buyers.

Ms. Manning reported they had been doing a brisk trade. "Everyone has been very supportive," she said, "That's what makes this Island - everybody supports everybody else."

The adjacent soup room offered several lip-smacking chili entries, a tangy intro to the main contest area set up in a large tent festooned with oversized balloons and posters.

And the chili. Ahhhh, the chili! Some made them hot, some made them sweet; some added beef, some pork, some venison. Heat level varied from pot to pot. One entry was said to blister the mouths of the unwary, as it has every year. Servers wore bright costumes and brighter smiles, handed out stickers to entice voters, and extolled the virtues of their own concoctions. The "Is it Really Chili" category this year boasted not only the usual zesty ice-cream served on a corn chip with a squirt of chocolate syrup but also delicious peppery fudge brownies by the Martha's Vineyard Online team. "Trader" Fred Mascolo was back in the fray with a tasty chili entry, 20 years after originating the contest with Ken Goldberg, who was then on staff at WMVY.

A Mariachi band kept the party energy alive and inspired some to set aside their chili cups and Corona bottles and hit the dance floor. The ever-zany impromptu limbo contest ended, as usual, with two-self-proclaimed winners taking the stage to dance with the band members before being quietly escorted off. Entrain took the bandstand in early afternoon to the delight of the crowd. The band was back to keep things hopping in the tent for the after-chili party, while Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish packed the new bar at the same time for a feast of music.

Later in the evening, when the music was over, all the chili devoured, and satiated partiers long gone, PA members were back at work, cleaning their beloved club after the biggest party it had ever seen.