Sitting in front of Suwanee’s Town Center Park Amphitheater, 13 contestants stared at the black to-go boxes in front of them, each of which contained 10 wings.
As the announcer shouted “Ready, go!,” each wing eating champion hopeful grabbed a piece of chicken, stuffing it into his or her mouth.
Within two minutes, Suwanee Police Department Cpl. Jeremy Gatz stood up, his face, fingers and bib covered in orange sauce.
“We have a winner!” the announcer shouted, as Suwanee Wing Fest attendees cheered. “Now we need the second and third place winners.”
Gathered in Suwanee Town Center Park Saturday evening, hundreds of local residents turned out for the city’s 16th annual Wing Fest and August concert, a late summer staple in the community.
Started in 2004, the event began as an evening of music, though quickly turned into something bigger.
“It started off as just an August concert, but the fun part for us about this, and the reason we have it this weekend even though it’s really hot, is everybody just started back to school and everybody’s home,” said Suwanee Event Planner Amy Doherty. “The August concert kind of brings everybody together at a time when people are done with summer vacation and school is starting.”
This year, the Smithereens headlined the concert, the second time the band has performed in Suwanee. Last time the group performed, it was at the city’s 2012 Suwanee Fest.
“For our August concert, we always pick a band that is kind of nostalgic and (takes you) back to the ’70s and ’80s, because most of our residents were probably in college in that time,” Doherty said. “We want it to be a band that you grew up listening to, and just for a moment in time, you can throw back to a great time in your life and reminisce with your new Suwanee neighbors and enjoy an evening in our beautiful park.”
That evening wouldn’t be complete without beer and wings, though, Doherty said — and of course the wing eating contest.
“It’s not who can eat the most wings, it’s who can eat 10 chicken wings the fastest and cleanest,” Doherty said. “The people who provide us with the wings always ask, ‘Well, what flavor do you want?’ We tell them, ‘Don’t make them too hot, but make them as drippy as you can.’ It makes for hilarious pictures.”
The contest also makes for good competition, especially between city employees — something Gatz attested to.
“(Friday) night, I went and got 20 wings and practiced,” he said. “I ate 10 in a minute and 29 seconds. My goal today was only to beat my other two officers — to win it all was pretty cool.”
Though the wing eating contest is always a highlight of Wing Fest, the event, at its heart, is about bringing the community together, Doherty said.
“This event really has a lot to do with just coming for the music and the food and the camaraderie of your neighbors,” she said. “You can come here and just have a good time. It’s a family friendly environment, so why not do that with chicken wings, beer and music you listened to in college?”
That food and fun is exactly what brought the Burke family to Suwanee Saturday night; though Sue and Ed Burke, and their daughter Belle, live in Lilburn, this year’s event was a first for them.
“My sister-in-law is visiting from Charlotte, so we were literally looking on Facebook events for, ‘What can we do tonight?’” Sue Burke said. “We were going to go do goat yoga, but we chose this over goat yoga.”
Laughing, Ed Burke interjected.
“I came across the wing festival and was like, ‘Got it — we’re done, we’re going to Wing Fest,’” he said. “The Smithereens, man? Absolutely.”
The evening didn’t disappoint for the family.
“Would we recommend it to others? Yes,” Sue Burke said. “Will we be back? Absolutely.”