Scoff all you like about the deluge of new festivals popping up all over town these days. Whether it was the general conceptual appeal of a day-long fried chicken celebration or the inevitable result of the entire CBD filling with the aroma of juicy, spicy, deep-fried poultry, the inaugural Fried Chicken Festival was a hit—at least as far as appeal.
Festival organizers at the Spears Group estimated that 40,000 people attended the event in Lafayette Square last fall. A large chunk of those attendees complained on social media that the event was too crowded, the lines too long and that food ran out at multiple vending stations.
Since then, the festival, which returns to New Orleans September 23–24, has undergone a makeover aimed in large part at addressing those problems. For starters, this year’s gathering is slated for two days rather than one at Woldenberg Park, which a spokesperson for the Spears group noted is “five times bigger” than the Square.
“Essentially, we’ve boosted the number of vendors, are enhancing vendor relations to ensure each is well prepared and [are] formatting the layout of vendor booths to better accommodate congestion,” Morgan Ballard told OffBeat.
In 2016, all of the food vendors hailed from New Orleans–based restaurants. This year, the 35-vendor lineup—up from 2016’s 28 vendors—has expanded to include offerings from some national kitchens as well. Among them are New Orleans staples like Dunbar’s, McHardy’s and Willie Mae’s Scotch House, plus Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken from Memphis, Tennessee, as well as Boxcar Betty’s from Charleston, South Carolina and Hattie’s Restaurant from Saratoga Springs, NY.
Celebrity chefs, including Food Network star Jeff Henderson, are slated to do cooking demonstrations. Other events include a contest to determine the best fried chicken at the fest, a chicken tender eating contest and VIP packages that provide access to lagniappe options like a Moët-sponsored Chicken and Champagne Lounge.
Two stages will host the music program, which has grown as well. Mainstage acts this year include Big Freedia, Naughty Professor, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Sean Ardoin & Zydekool, the Spirit of New Orleans Gospel Choir, Kristen Diable & The City, and Motel Radio. A second DJ stage will feature sets by DJs T-Roy, Quickie Mart, Raj Smoove and Captain Charles.