By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Trouble is, you can't get into the tents without a wristband or an invite. It makes it easy to tell the people with a lot of connections: They're the ones staggering around with an arm bearing a rainbow's worth of wristbands. Most others sport one or two.
Not all tents are created equal. Most offer beer, but others have tequila or Jell-O shots. Jack Daniel's, Crown Royal and Wild Turkey have their own tents.
If you're thinking there's another Mardi Gras equivalent -- women flashing for wristbands instead of beads -- you're out of luck. But there's a lot of cleavage at the Cookoff, and a lot of tents have some official who can be bribed by a cowgirl with a tight top and a big smile.
At the Jack Daniel's tent, there are 50 people -- with invites -- waiting to get the wristbands that will get them inside. Eventually, 4,000 or so will succeed over the course of the three-day event.
The wristband gets each person three drink tokens, says Greg Szajna, Houston market manager for Brown-Forman, the company that owns Jack Daniel's. (Unlike the beer tents, which have no limits beyond what will get you a public intoxication arrest, the hard-liquor tents are a little less free.)
"It's Americana. It's what this country's all about," Szajna says. He's talking about the Jack Daniel's story, not the people on the bread line for free drinks, but his analysis can apply to both.
"You've got 365 private parties out here," he says.
And even if you can't get into any of them, you can still pay admission, get a plate of barbecue, pay for your beers and listen to some country bands.
And it's important you do so, Szajna says. "You're here to support the kids," he says. " All that money goes to scholarships. It's a good cause."
And if that means serving 15,000 free Jack Daniel's drinks over a weekend, then that's what it takes, dammit.