The Spring Chicken Festival is clucking its way back to Gainesville for its 15th year, but this will be the first year in its new home off of the square.
The festival was moved to Longwood Park from the downtown Gainesville square after the city realized development of the Parkside on the Square condominiums would leave little room for the festival, which draws thousands of people downtown each year.
“Longwood Park definitely offers us some new opportunities to expand the festival,” said Regina Dyer, manager of the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I think we're going to have lots of room. And I think the backdrop will certainly be a nice addition.”
Many questions about space and logistics arose after the city announced the move, but with the April 27 festival quickly approaching, the details of what the festival will look like have become clear.
How is this going to work?
Parking was one of the biggest concerns about the move to Longwood Park, but those issues should be alleviated now that attendees will be allowed to use the Gainesville High School parking lots.
“We’ll have officers that will be at the cross walks so you’ll be able to park (at the school) and walk across the street,” Dyer said. “We feel like we’ll have plenty of parking.”
People can also park at Wilshire Trails Park just down the Pearl Nix Parkway from Longwood. And for those who instinctively head to the square for the festival, shuttles will be available to drive you from the square and back.
Once parked, as people walk down the hill at Longwood Park to the entrances of the long parking lot that during the festival will house the cook teams, they’ll be able to purchase their cluck card for $6, which will allow them 10 samples of chicken from the competitors.
If you don’t want to eat and just want to walk around and enjoy the sights, shade and smells, there’s no cost.
This year, there will be 21 cook teams that will each cook around 500 pounds of chicken. Everything from wings to thighs and breasts will be grilled, fried or smoked.
Once attendees make it past the parking lot lined with cook teams, they’ll find a path that leads down to the dining pavilion. The art market will be set up in the grassy areas between the cook teams and the pavilion.
The festival is getting a “Kids Zone” at the new location. Since the park already has a playground, tents with fun stuff for kids will be gathered around it for children to enjoy while their parents get their fill of chicken.
For Dyer, the most exciting addition to the Spring Chicken Festival will be what they’re calling “Chicken Wing Cove.”
With Longwood Park being located on the lake, the city is using the dock to create a new way to get to the festival.
“You can dock your boat there, come on up, get some chicken, enjoy the arts and crafts and then depart,” Dyer said. “We’re kind of excited about that. We don’t really know exactly what to expect, but we know there’s been a buzz on social media about people being able to come by boat, so we have a feeling people will come out there and enjoy the day that way.”
Why Longwood Park?
There’s a lot that goes into the Spring Chicken Festival. It’s not all just fun and cooking games. It’s a serious cooking competition — for both teams and judges.
“It’s a lot of planning, looking at things and trying to fit the puzzle pieces together because it’s not just vendors set up and tents set up,” Dyer said. “It involves cooking.”
There are requirements for about every aspect of the competition that are oftentimes overlooked by attendees.
“The one thing with this festival is that there are so many components and the cookoff is the big component,” Dyer said. “So when we're looking at logistics for moving or for a new site for this festival, we have to look at a lot of different things.”
There has to be plenty of space for all 21 teams to set up — which includes room for large grills, fryers and smokers — take orders and serve their chicken.
There also needed to be enough access to electricity and water. They have to think of the different ways to dispose of grease and other products that come from a cooking competition as large as the Spring Chicken Festival.
“Because it’s Georgia’s official chicken cookoff and it is a double-blind judging for the cook teams, we had to have a space where our judges and data entry are at a certain distance from the cook teams,” Dyer said.
When they looked at moving the festival, Longwood Park was the best option that provided the utilities, space and atmosphere.
“We’ve had an eating area and it was actually located in the center of the cook-team area, so we were all really confined in there,” Dyer said.
With the new dining pavilion that is already at the park, she thinks attendees will enjoy it much more and have plenty of “cool dining options” they didn’t have at the square.
“It will be kind of out away from that cook- team area and just be a little more spacious for people,” Dyer said. “Plus there’s so many nooks and crannies at that park — a lot of little benches — so there will be places for people to almost have a picnic and just kind of throw a blanket down and enjoy it out there.”
Why should I go?
The Spring Chicken Festival is a celebration of Gainesville’s status as “Poultry Capital of the World.”
“It’s come a long way,” Dyer said. “I came to the city back in 2012 and I was brand new, so the first year I went to the chicken festival I couldn’t believe how many people were coming out to a parking lot to eat chicken.”
Once she saw the almost-8,000 people that were at the event, Dyer realized it had potential, which is one of the reasons the decision to move the festival sparked controversy — people love the Spring Chicken Festival.
So organizers added things like the art market and the kids area to make it feel more like a festival.
Gary Moore has been competing with his team, Ninja Pig BBQ, for almost a decade. His cook team, although it doesn’t practice throughout the year, is the reigning champion and will be back again this year to defend its title.
Trophies are handed out for a range of categories, including “People’s Choice.”
“We’ve done this for many years and we’re all seasoned hands behind the grill,” Moore said. “We pretty much just come together once a year and a system develops once we get there and we just start. Everybody finds their place and we get an assembly line system going on and we get it taken care of.”
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputy said they plan on doing a few of the same recipes they have in the past, but they’ll be adding a new one, too.
The specialty chicken recipe is a chicken breast that's been flattened and seasoned, then stuffed with sauteed jalapenos and cream cheese and wrapped in bacon
For its chicken wing submissions, Ninja Pig BBQ uses a chipotle orange marmalade sauce and a teriyaki sauce, both of which have been tried-and-true favorites over the years.
The new recipe this year will be a “ninjanesian” recipe, which mimics Chick-fil-A’s polynesian dipping sauce.
2019 Spring Chicken Festival
What: 21-team chicken cooking competition
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 27
Where: Longwood Park, 20 Pearl Nix Parkway, Gainesville
How much: Free to attend, $6 for a cluck card allowing 10 samplesMore info: www.gainesville.org/spring-chicken-festival
Everything will be smoked, not fried or grilled.
“We have an old -school, traditional stick burner,” Moore said. “It tastes a lot better smoked. It’s a very old-school system and is a lot more time-consuming and takes a lot more of a skill level, but the flavor is certainly worthwhile. It’s a whole different flavor.”
Moore isn’t concerned about the festival’s move, and the other cook teams must not be either.
“The cook teams that are usually there are coming back and competing, so it didn’t scare any of our vendors away,” Dyer said.
Ninja Pig BBQ
Easy Out Bail Bonds
Sue’s Q BBQ
Team Monee Rich
Peckerwood Country Club
Loose Connections BBQ
Antioch Baptist Church
Southern Country Cue
Gainesville Fire Department
The Inked Pig
Moore said as long people know about the change in location, the event should go smoothly.
“I think with the proper amount of advertising so people know where to go, it should be as good as it always has been,” Moore said.
Dyer feels the same way. With a new location, she’s hoping the festival will draw in more people who otherwise wouldn’t know the festival is happening on the square and thinks it will do just that.
“I think people are excited about it,” Dyer said. “Change is not easy for anyone, but we are really keeping a positive outlook and we just feel like this year is going to be great.”