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Annual Pig Out has it all: music, food, ambience

Thu., Sept. 1, 2011

Is it possible to describe Pig Out in the Park in three words or less?

Music: Free. Musselwhite. Leon.

Food: Brisket. Curry. Dipped.

Ambiance: Grassy. Sunny. Smoky.

Overall vibe: Spokane. Summer. Sleeveless.

You get the idea, but this hardly captures the monumental appeal of Pig Out. Since its inception 31 years ago, Pig Out has served about 2.5 million customers, and at least one (me) has been known to dine there eight times in one weekend.

The event has generated its own legendary moments: bluesman John Mayall playing in a dust storm in 1993 and reggae rapper Shaggy drawing a crowd of 22,000 in 1999.

This year, Pig Out has all of the usual attractions – 48 food booths, three live music stages and three adult beverage gardens – as well as some particularly toothsome special features.

Here are just a few:

Leon Russell, Friday, 9:15 p.m., Clocktower Stage: If you were listening to pop music in the 1960s and 1970s, you were listening to Russell.

This white-bearded piano giant was the session man and arranger behind dozens of hit songs ranging from the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” to Herb Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey” to Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring.”

He wrote “Delta Lady” for Joe Cocker and, when he finally launched his own solo career, he generated hits with “Tight Rope,” “Lady Blue” and “This Masquerade.”

Russell has been back on the scene recently with a duet CD with Elton John, “The Union,” which was also made into a Cameron Crowe documentary.

Deep-Fried Pop Tarts, at the Inland Empire Concessions Booth: Sometimes, you just feel like a fried packaged breakfast pastry. This booth also offers deep-fried Twinkies and Snickers.

Charlie Musselwhite, tonight at 8:30, Clocktower Stage: Musselwhite is, in the words of Downbeat magazine, “the undisputed champion of the blues harmonica.”

His roots are in Mississippi and Memphis and he made his name playing with Chicago blues icons such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He’s also a vocalist and guitarist.

Butterscotch Pecan Voodoo Cake, at the Gumbo Goddess booth: Only New Orleans could dream up something that sounds so delicious.

MarchFourth Marching Band, Sunday, 9:15 p.m., Clocktower Stage: Pig Out’s Craig Heimbigner says this has the potential to be the “sleeper hit” of the year.

This costumed Portland outfit is a combination of brass band, Mardi Gras parade, steampunk spectacle and circus act. Think of it as the hippest school marching band ever, playing funk and jazz and rock.

The French Onion Melt, from Mommy G’s Grilled Cheese booth: This is not your typical grilled cheese sandwich. It’s Gruyere cheese with caramelized onions and wild mushrooms.

Top it off with something called Sweeters, melted chocolate and sweetened mascarpone cheese on cinnamon chip bread.

Marcy Playground, Saturday, 9:15 p.m., Clocktower Stage: This is the alt-rock trio that had the 1997 hit “Sex and Candy.”

Elk Smokie Dog, at the Trophies Spice booth: For those who crave wild game. They’ll also have the Elk Burger and the Elk Breakfast Sandwich.

The Spokane Songwriter Stage, Sunday, noon to 9 p.m., Runners Stage (across from City Hall): For a pure homegrown musical experience, the Spokane Songwriters Organization is hosting an entire afternoon at the Runners Stage. You’ll see eight local singer-songwriters, plus an invitational open mike at 3 p.m.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, or the Pig Out hand-dipped ice cream bar. Look for the complete 82-act stage schedule and the 48-booth food lineup at the Pig Out website,

Or you can simply wander around Riverfront Park, with a hearty appetite and open ears, until you find something tasty.

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