by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

For the third year in a row, Old Boney Mountain Hot Sauce Company and Rotary Club of Newbury Park will present the Old Boney Mountain Hot Summer Night Festival — although, following the current trend, this year’s rendition will be virtual. The festival will be live streamed on YouTube and Facebook Live on Saturday, July 11, 4-6 p.m.

The “hot” in Hot Summer Night comes courtesy of the international hot sauce competition, which features capsicum-laden concoctions from all across the globe. As in previous years, a panel of local judges taste them all, bestowing awards upon the best entries. But for 2020, safety protocols are in order. 

“Hot sauce judging usually occurs in one evening, but this year we’re spreading the six competitive divisions over six days so judges can taste sauces and still practice social distancing,” explains event co-chair Jeff Losey, founder of Old Boney Mountain Hot Sauce Company. 

The juried panel is made up 9-12 people in the culinary industry: chefs, restaurateurs, hot sauce makers, etc., most from Ventura County and the Conejo Valley. This year’s panel includes Chef Eric Kopelow, vice president and corporate executive chef of Universal Studios Hollywood; author and chef Cristina Ferrare and former L.A. Dodgers pitcher Scott Erickson. Judges will be selecting winners in mild, medium, hot and extra-hot categories, plus two new categories added for 2020: fruit-based and barbecue sauce.

Judge Tom Bumbaugh at the 2019 Old Boney Mountain International Hot Sauce Competition. (Photo submitted)

“There are hot sauces that have been sent from around the world,” says Mary-Catherine McBride, event co-chair and producer. “We have over 200 sauces submitted this year.” Entries have come from England, Australia, South America, Mexico and Canada, as well as 20 U.S. states. Local brands taking up the gauntlet include Char Man (Ojai), Hillgrillies BBQ (Santa Paula), Red Hot Foods (Santa Paula) and Santa Paula Salsa Co.

Pre-judging is already underway to narrow the field to 18 sauces, which will be available to the public for tasting (and People’s Choice voting) on Sunday, July 5, 3-6 p.m. at Holdren’s Steaks and Seafood in Newbury Park. No reservations are necessary and it’s free, as is the live-streamed festival on July 11 — although a $5 donation is required to vote for best hot sauce bottle label and be entered for prize drawings. (UPDATE on July 3, 2020, at 3:15 p.m. — the July 5 tasting has been canceled due to the closing of indoor dining.)

“We’ll monitor safe distance and health protocols, of course,” McBride adds.

A Festival Tasting Box is also available for purchase from the festival website ( It costs $50 and includes hot sauce samples, snacks, local craft beers, spirits, discount coupons and more.

“During the show on the 11th, we’ll talk to the makers of those local brews (Enegren, Institution Ale, Five Threads and Tarantula Hill Brewing Co.),” McBride says. Past hot sauce winners will also discuss their products and culinary secrets. “The Festival Box is something that allows people watching at home to taste along. That makes you part of it. It’s helping to defray some costs and raise funds, too.”

McBride notes that Hot Summer Night is, first and foremost, a fundraiser. “The concept first came about two years ago after the Thomas Fire . . . Hot sauce resonates with fire, and we wanted to support our fire fighters and first responders.”

Net proceeds benefit Rotary charities, first responders and the Grossman Burn Foundation, based in Calabasas, which supports treatment, care and support for burn survivors and their families. 

The virtual event will also offer live music and other entertainment, making this spicy soiree a multi-sensory experience — all for the sake of a good cause. Even over the Internet, Old Boney Mountain will be the hottest spot in town this month.

Old Boney Mountain Hot Summer Night takes place online on Saturday, July 11, 4-6 p.m. For registration and more information, call 805-701-7248, email or visit