Safeway's National Capital Barbecue Battle is more small-town festival than competition. (Don Renner)

With a relatively modest 43 teams — and those tucked among the kiddie activities and corporate-sponsored events — the battle, which closes down several blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue on June 23 and 24, is more a small-town festival than a competition. But it draws big numbers (around 110,00 last year, organizers say) and some top competitors.

I figured I would check in to see how things are coming. I reached longtime battle co-organizer Suzanne Tubis over the weekend, and our conversation turned first to the musical acts.

The battle’s two stages this year will include the veteran indie rockers Soul Asylum, whose first album in six years, “Delayed Reaction,” is scheduled for release on July 17, and the traditional Saturday night closer and crowd fave, Washington’s godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown.

“Chuck Brown,” Tubis said, “is Washington music.”

We discussed the barbecue aspect, and she referred me to Doug Halo, who oversees that part of the event, but our schedules only allowed for a little e-mailing back and forth. Still, it is clear that there are several barbecue storylines. They include:

* Can Washington-area team Pork Barrel BBQ repeat as grand champion?

* Which local restaurant will win bragging rights? Two members of the Pork Barrel BBQ team are partners in a restaurant in Alexandria by the same name. They will compete against other local teams from Penn Quarter’s Hill Country and Georgetown’s Old Glory.

* Will the return of onsite judging be a hit or a miss?

Basically, there are two types of judging. One is solely blind tasting, the other involves an onsite visit.

Last year, for the first time in years, the battle did away with onsite judging. The decision met with mixed reviews. Some competitors welcomed the change because it meant they didn’t have to prepare for two different types of competitions. Others complained that they missed the specialness, and fun, of competing in the one major competition that included both types of judging.

In any event, onsite judging returns this year.

Beyond the questions, there are a couple of noteworthy new items:

* The “Legends of BBQ” will be added to the BBQ Marketplace Bazaar, a stretch of product booths and demonstrations. The legends are multiple champions and “BBQ Pitmasters” personalities, Texas’s Johnny Trigg of Smokin’ Triggers, Virginia’s Tuffy Stone of Cool Smoke and Georgia’s Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South. Also included is Health Hall, representing the defending grand champion Pork Barrel BBQ.

* For the first time, local chainette Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company will vend at the battle. So will Pork Barrel BBQ, which didn’t have a restaurant last year.

Advance tickets are $12 per day. They’re $15 at the gate. Children’s tickets go for $5 in advance and at the gate. This year, you can purchase a $95 VIP Weekend Pass, which gets you entry into a hospitality area with (unspecified) “unlimited food & beverages,” a 20th anniversary apron and a goodie bag.

For more info, check out the battle’s Web site.

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