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Hot Chicken Festival 

When: Wed., July 4, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 2012
The bird is the word at Nashville’s annual celebration of its indigenous specialty, hot chicken. Twenty years ago, aficionados had to explain the delicacy to bumfuzzled visitors, who wondered why anyone would want fried chicken patted down with a peppery finish that could sandblast rust off an El Camino.  But now, joints like Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, 400 Degrees and Bolton’s are regarded as civic and culinary treasures, and Nashville hot chicken has become a menu item in outposts as far-flung as San Francisco, Michigan and New York. This year the party started early, as the restaurants of Nashville Originals have been offering variations on the great atomic bird every day for the past month. But it all leads up to today’s fowlapalooza in East Nashville’s East Park, where thousands will gather to feel the burn. Yes, it will likely be hot as habanero seeds outside; yes, you will gravitate toward the meager shade of the park’s spindly saplings, to little avail; yes, you will sweat like Nixon on live TV and stand in long, long lines just to get a little of the burnin’ bird. But hot chicken lovers know that pain only intensifies the eventual pleasure. (Think of this relationship as Fifty Shades of Red.) There’ll be live music, a Yazoo beer garden, kids’ activities, and the day’s centerpiece, the hotly contested amateur cluck-off, where teams submit their finest hot chicken to a phalanx of celebrity judges. Best of all, the festival has added more food vendors, thus relieving those waits for chow: This year’s lineup, the biggest yet, features the venerated Prince’s, Bolton’s and 400 Degrees along with more recent favorites Pepperfire Hot Chicken, The Chicken Shack and Otter’s Chicken Tenders — as well as B&C BBQ, Foxy Baking Co., The Dog of Nashville, Nashville Farmers’ Market, Pied Piper Creamery, Biscuit Love, The Lemon Spot, and the awesome East Side Fish (“The Crunkest Fish in Town”) for those who don’t like hot chicken. But if you don’t like hot chicken, really, why are you here?
— Jim Ridley

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