24 hours after John Ramirez, owner and pitmaster at 4Points BBQ & Blues in Winterport, returned to Maine from visiting his home state of Oklahoma, he was watching pictures of the devastation of the Moore, Okla. tornado pop up on his Facebook feed. Friends and acquaintances in and around Moore and the other communities where tornados struck were posting images of houses destroyed, trees felled, entire neighborhoods devastated.
“It was another ‘here we go again’ moment,” said Ramirez. “Three days before 4Points opened [in 2011] was the Joplin [Missouri] tornado, and I was in Picher, Oklahoma [in 2008] when the tornado struck there. My wife Nichole was talking to her sister [in Miami, OK] the day after the Moore tornado, and we could hear the hail bouncing off the cellar door while she was on the phone. It’s just really, really scary.”
By Tuesday, Ramirez had already sprung into action, after making a donation to a favorite non-profit of his, Operation BBQ Relief, which arranges for competition barbecue teams in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma to set up their pits at disaster areas and cook meals for displaced families and first responders. He wanted to do something more local in Maine, so he began calling up local bands and seeing if they might be willing to donate their time to an all-day musical benefit, to help relief efforts in Moore.
“I knew we had to do more,” said Ramirez. “I just started calling bands, saying to them ‘I know you probably don’t know anybody down there, but would you want to help’?”
By Wednesday, the Sooner Strong Benefit was all lined up, featuring eight bands from noon until 10 p.m. at 4Points, located at 145 Main St. in Winterport. Admission is $5, though attendees are welcome to donate extra money, all of which will go to one of three charities, which people can vote for – either the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Operation BBQ Relief. A portion of the days’ food and drink proceeds will also be donated to relief efforts.
“I was really blown away by the response,” said Ramirez. “It’s Memorial Day weekend, and these guys are giving up good paying gigs over the weekend to play for free, to raise money. It’s not about me or about 4Points, it’s about these guys coming to play. It’s a big gesture. The word got out super fast, and we filled up really quickly. I’m still going through all the phone calls.”
Bands set to perform include songwriter Aaron Beaulieu, jazz band Shades of Blue, funk band Juicebox, modern rockers Sound and Vice, the Juke Rockets Blues Band, Celtic hard-folk band St. Huckleberry and progressive string band Nevah, with singer-guitarist Everett Dumas playing short sets in between all the bands. All bands hail from the greater Bangor area, and all are playing for free.
4Points, open since 2011, serves up a fusion style of traditional barbecue, though Ramirez naturally is partial to Oklahoma-style ‘cue. From Kansas City burnt ends to Texas-style brisket, from Carolina chopped hog to Maine applewood smoked turkey, 4Points has quickly developed a devoted following.
4Points this year has added a diverse and jam-packed music schedule, held on its outdoor patio. The Lawn Chair Concert Series starts on June 1, with blues favorite Popa Chubby, and continues every weekend through Sept. 15. Other big names set to take the 4Points stage include Maine favorites Paranoid Social Club on June 9, Boston roots rockers the Adam Ezra Group July 6, blues rockers the Sean Chambers Band on July 21, Maine country rockers the Mallett Brothers Band on Aug. 4, blues harmonica legend Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones on Aug. 18, and New England blues favorites Mr. Nick and the Dirty Tricks on Sept. 1. For a full schedule, visit the 4Points events page, or like 4Points on Facebook.