Hot Chicken for the Fourth

Written by on July 3, 2015

The 2015 Music City Hot Chicken Festival comes to Nashville's East Park on July 4.The federal observance of Independence Day is taking place today, but in Nashville, the real celebration happens on the actual nation’s anniversary: July 4. That’s when the ninth annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival to benefit East Nashville’s Friends of Shelby Bottom hits East Park.

From 11am-3pm Saturday,visitors in the thousands are expected to come and sample the seriously spicy, crispy wares from most, if not all, of the city’s hot-chicken restaurants.

When I moved here a year and a quarter ago, barbecue was what surrounded me. Nearly everywhere I looked, there were meat-and-threes or holes-in-the-wall advertising all manner of it — ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked sausage. Then I found last year’s Hot Chicken Festival and discovered that cayenne-coated fried chicken was the real Nashville edible.

The dish has been served on local tables since the 1930s, with the basic spice combination created by the Jeffries family. André Prince Jeffries, owner of the award-winning Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack on Ewing Drive since 1980, says the dish came about by accident.

Jeffries is quoted as saying that her great-uncle Thornton Prince was a bit of a ladies’ man. In the mid-1930s, his girlfriend was not happy to find that he was enjoying the company of other women, and she fought back by serving him karma on a plate: fried chicken seasoned with an especially heaping helping of pepper. The punishment didn’t turn out the way she had hoped: Prince loved the spicy bird, and after working with his brothers to create their own spice breading mix, they opened what was then called the BBQ Chicken Shack Café. 

Now, if one gets the late-night munchies, that need can be satisfied at plenty of hot-chicken eateries around town. This is a dish that does not discriminate on the basis of melanin, political party or economic status — though it was born of Nashville’s African-American community, over the decades it has become a favorite of politicians, country-music luminaries and Joe Six-Packs alike.

The Hot Chicken Festival puts that fact on display: Every section of Metro Nashville is represented in all of its diversity to enjoy food vendors, family fun activities and music performances. And, naturally, there is chicken — the traditional peppery bird, along with elevated versions sure to tempt gourmands and the gastronomically adventurous.

So, if you are in Music City Saturday, head to East Park, and bring a water bottle or two. You’ll need it. Get there early: The first 500 get free samples. And parking is notoriously tough to find.

Happy Fourth.


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