Perched on the bluffs above the Mississippi River, Memphis is a premier Tennessee destination featuring beautiful natural surroundings, historical attractions, and an extensive live music scene. Those in search of outdoor activities should head straight for Shelby Farms Park. It’s one of the largest urban parks in America, covering more than 4,500 acres, and it features opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, and more. The Birthplace of Rock n’ Roll is full of museums and historical sites that highlight the city’s rich history. A few places to check out include Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, and Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island River Park.
The Southern Hot Wing Festival has been the premier wing event in Memphis since it began 17 years ago, and it will take place April 21 at Tiger Lane. Attendees will encounter a Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS) sanctioned cook-off complete with roughly 70 cooking teams competing for one of the five top spots. A panel of impartial KCBS certified judges will determine the winners, with no input from the event organizers. More than 18 local and regional music acts will perform live on two stages throughout the event, including favorites such as The ShotGunBillys and ZigaDoo Moneyclips. Those attending with the entire family will love the Kids Korner. It includes a variety of fun games and activities for all ages. Make sure to check out the vendor area which will feature more than 25 regional vendors selling a variety of unique and handmade items. Purchase of a VIP ticket grants access to the VIP tent that has Southern fried chicken and sides, as well as an open bar. All of the event’s proceeds will go to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis. In fact, the event has donated more than $225,000 to the charity since it began. We interviewed Event Founder, Paul Gagliano, to learn more about this massive celebration of hot wings.
RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.
PG: Around 17 years ago I had an idea to create a cooking competition (specifically hot wings) just for the fun of it. I was playing golf with the owner of a local bar and mentioned to him that I wanted to put together a hot wing cooking contest, with his venues as the home location. He said ok, and he contributed $1,000, and I called a friend at Budweiser Co. who also made $1,000 contribution. The first year, we had seven teams competing, hence the beginning of the Southern Hotwing Festival. From then, it grew by three to five teams per year until after the fifth year when I ran out of space and moved the festival to South Main. After the 9th year, the festival had outgrown South Main, and I moved it to Jefferson Park (now River Park). Last Fall, the event was transitioned to Tiger Lane, the fourth and hopefully final move.
RAL: How many annual attendees do you draw?
PG: We’ve seen steady growth each year, and expect around 15,000 attendees this year.
RAL: What demographic does your event attract? Children? Families? Couples?
PG: We typically see all demographics within the Memphis community. Families usually attend earlier in the day (11:00-3:00 pm) then the young and older adults close out the event (7:00 pm).
RAL: What makes this event unique?
PG: For a small donation (a dollar) to any team, an attendee can sample a wing from any of the 60-70 competing recipes.
RAL: Take me through a day at the event. What can I expect as an attendee?
PG: We have a wing eating contest, corn hole contest, Kids Korner for youngsters (12 years and under enter free), VIP tent, silent auction, two stages with 18 music acts, over 25 vendors, and 70+ cooking teams. Our first place grand prize payout is $5,000 and the cookout is sanctioned and judged by the Kansas City BBQ Society. The competition has two rounds of judging with five final winning teams.
RAL: Will there be any guest appearances?
PG: Yes, there will be 17 great Memphis music acts, plus, an 11-year-old phenom musician from Nashville.
RAL: What dining options will attendees encounter?
PG: We have numerous vendors, selling some great meals and snacks. A VIP ticket ($125) includes Southern fried chicken, Southern side dishes, open bar, and live performances by Mike Sweep.
RAL: Tell us about the overall atmosphere.
PG: Our event is very festive. The attendees anticipate this event all year long, and it's THE place to be for any hot wing lover.
RAL: What can an attendee expect to find for local lodging?
PG: The Southern Hotwing Festival refers our patrons to contact Ms. Lorena Williams for hospitality needs.
Area Corporate Sales Manager
Hotels of Court Square
75 Jefferson Avenue
Memphis, TN 38103
RAL: What does this event mean to the community?
PG: Memphis is the Hotwing Capital of the World, consuming more wings than any other city in the world. People love to see what our competitors are cooking up.
RAL: Does this drive business to your local economy?
PG: Absolutely, we have teams from Illinois, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
RAL: Does the event support a particular cause in the community?
PG: We contribute all proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis. The festival has donated approximately $225,000 to date, and we’d like to reach the million dollar mark someday.
RAL: Why should people come to your event?
PG: Memphis is a city with an abundance of culture. This event is the ideal way to experience the city’s unique brand of food, ambiance, music, and Southern hospitality.
For more information about the Southern Hot Wing Festival, please visit the event website.