Growing up in small-town Oregon, the men I idolized were working class, straightforward, and generous. They craved simple lives, mostly, and devoted themselves wholly to a few hobbies and one job. A few of them were truck drivers, some were loggers, others were construction workers, contractors, teachers, and coaches. Many of them worked with their hands, using their bodies to put something they had personally made, fought for, or created out into the world.
These men knew exactly what kind of clothes they liked to wear, too — big, splashy button downs, red flannel, camo shorts — some of them had frosted tips or massive beards their wives detested, but they never tried to be anything they weren’t. On weekends, they’d gather together out in the woods, shoot a deer, field-dress it, and bring us the venison jerky, or frozen cuts wrapped in butcher paper. They followed the local teams, offered up their trucks when we needed help moving, and showed up at caroling parties the week before Christmas. When the littlest kids wanted to ride on their backs, they were always ready and willing.
To sit and talk with Guy Fieri, who also hails from a small town surrounded by towering pines, feels like talking to one of these men from back home. Yes, the man is a much loved and sometimes hated (or hated on) public figure but he might as well be one of the guys who helped raise my friends and me, who made our communities stronger. Viewed through this lens, and taking into account his support of fire victims in Northern California, harping on him because you think wraparound shades are dumb feels kind of petty.
While presiding as pit master over a bevy of grills at the Stagecoach Festival earlier this year, Fieri carried himself like a dad at a cookout (one wearing a camo chef’s smock, no less). My first glimpse of him at the festival was directing his son to take the journalist in front of me to try some long-simmering, meaty delicacy on the other side of the tent. “Make him an ostrich burrito and get him set up,” he told Hunter Fieri, 21, who flashed a grin and trotted back toward the massive row of grills lining the back of the tent. Guy smiled to himself, sat back down at his picnic table, then noticed me.
“You next?” he asked, gesturing for me to sit.
In the twenty or so minutes that I spoke with Guy, I discovered that he’s still that hometown bro. Every bit as earnest and upbeat as you’d hope for someone who somehow lucked into doing what they love all day, every day, and making a fortune in the process. Sitting inside his personally curated Smokehouse Tent — full of barbecuers and burnt ends experts from around the nation — I picked Guy’s brain about everything from food to gay marriage.
What was it about Stagecoach that drew you to get involved with the festival?
If they would’ve told me that I could come to Stagecoach and park cars, I would’ve come park cars. Okay? It’s unbelievable. I mean if you’re interested in any aspect of country-bluegrass, old country, new country, country rock, whatever it is, it’s here. It’s so much different.
You’ve got such a diversity of music and such a diversity of experiences. I mean… there’s an ice cream shop. There’s a tent full of barbecue. There’s a Ferris wheel. It’s a great family experience and a great outdoor experience. And they said ‘Hey, you want to come and curate a barbecue experience for people?’ I’m like ‘Come on, you want to ask me twice?’
Tell me a little bit about some of the barbecue vendors that you’ve selected and what made them stand out in your mind.
You know, barbecue’s not barbecue. Barbecue is… it’s like saying country music is country music. Everybody’s got a style, everybody’s got a way. We’ve got our guys from Philly’s Baby Blues BBQ over here. They’re doing chicken wings on an open grill with hardwood. You got Bludso‘s, he’s from Los Angeles, doing old school barbecue in their style on white bread. You’ve got Operation BBQ Relief, that’s a hodgepodge of barbecue chefs from across the country that all come together to support one another when a disaster happens.
So we’ve got just a great mix of barbecue and people and food that is around barbecue. Barbecue is not the meat and the beans. It’s the experience. Come on down for some barbecue. That’s what this is.