Event kicks off Labor Day weekend; 2016 festival expanding
By the National Buffalo Wing Festival
Back in 2002, the world was a different place. The iPhone hadn't been invented yet. Donald Trump was still building golf courses. Hillary Clinton was just a senator from New York. And downtown Buffalo was a place to avoid.
It was also 15 years ago when the National Buffalo Wing Festival made its glorious, wing-filled debut in downtown Buffalo.
Today, both Buffalo and its signature wing event are growing and thriving. So, it is with great honor that the National Buffalo Wing Festival, one of the country's most beloved food festivals, returns to Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo Sept. 3-4 to celebrate its 15th year.
The festival, which attracted 70,000-plus attendees from all 50 states and 46 different countries last year, will feature more than 25 local, regional, national and international eateries serving over 100 styles of chicken wings.
"When we started the festival, there wasn't any activity in downtown Buffalo on weekends," said Drew Cerza, the festival founder who's affectionately known as the "Wing King." "But, 15 years later, that narrative, as well as the cityscape, has changed dramatically! Now people from all over the world are looking forward to spending the entire weekend in the city, enjoying all the activities that our city has to offer."
In addition to the food frenzy, festivalgoers can enjoy a weekend packed with activities ranging from competitive wing-eating contests, amateur cook-offs, pageants, music, children's entertainment and the ever-popular "Bobbing for Wings" competition.
"This is also the year the Wingfest said 'Yes' to the many requests we've been hearing over the years form our attendees," Cerza said. "And, while these items have been extremely challenging to implement, we've made it work - thanks to the support from our sponsors and the encouragement from 'Wing Fans' near and far."
New VIP Party Deck
For those guests looking to upgrade their Buffalo Wing Festival experience, organizers are proud to present the VIP party deck located on Coca-Cola Stadium's party deck in the right field bleachers.
"This is a great way to experience the National Buffalo Wing Festival in style," Cerza said. "And, we've made it easy to become an official VIP by offering online ticketing."
For $25, guests can get the royal treatment with festival admission, private seating, table service, one complimentary beverage, private VIP cash bar, VIP badge, commemorative 15th anniversary cup, $5 off a festival T-shirt, and prime views of the main field and entertainment stage. Sponsors include New Amsterdam Spirits and HomeRun Creative Marketing.
New Covered On-Field Seating
The National Buffalo Wing Festival will offer guests the opportunity to enjoy their wings with on-field seating underneath a large, 400-square-foot big top tent. Thanks to the support of Northtown Toyota, the "Rest 'n Place" will extend from third base to second base on the main infield, and is open to all festivalgoers to get out of the sun or just sit, relax and enjoy their wings.
New Misting Stations
The record summertime temps are no match for festivalgoers this year, as the event will feature a 20-foot-by-20-foot misting tent. The "Cooling Zone," sponsored by Northeast Mechanical, will allow attendees to cool off and extend their stay.
New Buffalo Ninja Warrior Challenge
Building on NBC's popular "American Ninja Warrior" series, Buffalo's own ninja, Patrick Hall of Hybrid Fitness - who has appeared on the show - has organized a competition at the Wingfest, featuring some of the national stars including Jon "The Giant" Alexis Jr., Jesse "Flex" Labreck and Jennifer Tavernier. Attendees will also be able to take on the Buffalo Ninja Warrior Challenge during various time slots at the festival.
Happening on both Sept. 3 and 4, the Buffalo Ninja Warrior Challenge is open to both kids and adults looking to compete on both six- and 10-station obstacle courses - just like the ones seen on TV.
New Chicken Wing 5K
Continuing the tradition of adding an ironic healthy twist at the Wingfest, the first Chicken Wing 5K Run will take place in downtown Buffalo at 11 a.m. Sept. 4. Sponsored by BlueCross Blue Shield of WNY, Wegmans and The Buffalo News, the race takes runners on a scenic, 3.1-mile circular route that winds through downtown Buffalo and beyond (view race map here).
"Our race route takes participants through the Inner Harbor and industrial sections of Buffalo under new development - an area that perfectly blends the beauty of old Buffalo with the promise of the city's future," Cerza said.
New Oogie Games Zone
Wingfest is taking its Kids Zone into the 21st century through a partnership with Oogie Games. The "Oogie Games Zone" is a place where kids of all ages can make a quick pit-stop and play video games including retro and "Mario" titles, as well as "Tecmo Bowl" and "Madden 17." There is also a "Defender" High Score Challenge. The schedule varies each day and is available on the festival website.
Some of the top wing-makers around will appear at the National Buffalo Wing Festival.
New Wingfest App
The National Buffalo Wing Festival has gone digital! The app is an interactive festival guide, including a social-media-like activity feed, interactive map, festival schedule, vendor and restaurant information with menus and sponsors. The app will also be "gamified," allowing attendees to earn virtual badges and special prizes just for using and interacting with the app or participating in the Wingfest Scavenger Hunt.
Wings, Wings & Wings (Did we mention wings?)
The 2016 lineup of restaurants and eateries is shaping up to be impressive, with six new U.S.-based restaurants coming from as far as New Mexico. In 2015, the festival started the tradition of welcoming an international wing vendor to highlight the explosion of the Buffalo chicken wing around the globe (last year's was from London). This year,King of the Wings from Brisbane, Australia, will join the ranks.
Restaurants will compete in the annual National Sauce-Off Competition for bragging rights to the best wing sauces in America. The competition includes eight different categories of wing styles, including the all-new dry rub category, which is becoming a prevalent style across the nation.
For a full lineup of participating eateries, visit www.BuffaloWing.com/Restaurants.
Consumer's Beverages Craft Beer Corner
After last year's success, the festival will welcome back local craft beers inside the Consumer's Beverages Craft Beer Corner. Local craft brewers, including Resurgence Brewing Co., Big Ditch Brewing Co., Flying Bison Brewing Co. and Community Beer Works, will pour more than 15 different styles of beer all weekend.
World-Class Competitive Eating
One of the annual highlights of the festival weekend is the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship presented by the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. This popular event, sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, happens at 5 p.m. Sept. 4.
Once again the world's No. 1 competitive eater, Joey Chestnut returns to defend his title. Last year, Chestnut devoured 205 wings in 12 minutes to take the crown. Crowd favorite and five-time Wingfest World Champion Sonya Thomas will be on hand to battle the field, as well.
In addition to the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship, the pros compete in the Buffalo Buffet Bowl at 6 p.m. Sept. 3. The battle challenges eaters to consume five pounds of some of Buffalo's favorite foods, including pizza and roast beef on weck.
Other wing-eating competitions during the festival include the Hot Wing Eating Contest, Amateur Chicken Wing Eating Contest and the College Wing Eating Competition.
Other Wing-tastic Fun
The competitions aren't just limited to the professionals at Wingfest, as the festival features several amateur cook-offs, including the Amateur Traditional Sauce Contest and the Amateur Creative Sauce Contest. In addition, the festival will present the annual Miss Buffalo Wing Pageant and the Baby Wing Contest (children 0-4 years).
Festivalgoers can compete in (or watch) the famous "Bobbing for Wings" competition, in which participants dunk their heads into a kiddie-sized swimming pool filled with blue cheese dressing to retrieve as many wings as possible within three minutes using only their mouths.
This year's entertainment lineup includes several performances by the master of ceremonies, "Quiz Master" Dennis George, as well as one of Buffalo's favorite blues bands, The Heavenly Chillbillies, who'll liven up the festival with blues music throughout the weekend.
Admission is $5 with children 8 years and younger admitted free. The festival benefits Alzheimer's Association Western New York Chapter, Food Bank of WNY and Meals on Wheels for Western New York Inc. The festival has raised more than $325,000 since its inception.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown at a Wingfest press conference Tuesday.