While another event lays claim to the title "party of the year," Cal State Bakersfield's annual Spring BBQ is regarded by many as the official start to summer.
"It's a big community party," Karen Langston, CSUB's senior associate athletics director for external affairs and capital projects, said of the event returning May 9 to the Icardo Center.
"It's just a big cookout with live music and we expect great weather. It's kind of the kick-off to summer for the community."
The fact that summer is still more than a month away doesn't matter to attendees, who turn out in droves to enjoy the nice weather, good food and camaraderie of the event.
Langston said Mark Mayes, associate athletics director for special projects, leads the charge bringing the barbecue together each year but that it's an "all hands on deck proposition."
That involves more than 200 volunteers, including student-athletes, CSUB 60+ Club members and many more. Held the second Thursday in May, the event's preparations really heat up the Tuesday before.
"During barbecue week, every time you approach the Icardo Center, something new is in place," she said. "It's really a systematic implementation. Over the next few days, you see it unfold in front of your eyes."
When it comes to together, thousands turn out to snack, socialize and sway on the dance floor.
"It's just such a Bakersfield event. You're sure to see people that you know just hanging out. ... Everybody has a good time, visiting with friends who they haven't seen in a long time and listening to good music."
This year, Monty Byrom and brother Tanner will bring their band The Byrom Brothers to provide the soundtrack for post-dinner dancing.
Langston, who has been with the university since 2002, credits the barbecue's enduring popularity to hitting all the buttons people want in a spring gathering.
"I think there's just a little bit of something for everyone."
For some it's the great food, anchored by New York steaks and teriyaki chicken grilled in the assembly line led by the Icardo family, which has been involved since the beginning thanks to patriarch Jimmie Icardo.
"There are people who come right at 5 and get a to-go plate. They just like the food. Some people like the socializing; it's a casual environment. Some people love music and dancing. And it supports a good cause."
That's an important reminder that many of the young men and women busing tables or serving food or any other number of tasks rely on the Roadrunner Scholarship Fund to help with costs. Many of CSUB's student-athletes are on some form of scholarship.
"Our scholarship bill is in the millions," Langston said. "This is just one small part of how we fund scholarships."
The event also allows the community to meet some of this hard-working students, Langston said.
"I always say our student-athletes can sometimes feel like our best-kept secret," she said. "Although they compete publicly in their respective venues and we know them, our community doesn't realize how special they are. They're incredibly talented, they do a ton of community service. ... They do the work, with enthusiasm and the desire to do a good job."