I crowed like a rooster. Scratched the ground for corn. Did strong yeoman’s work clucking and strutting with the best of people…who act like chickens and roosters. Is this the fate of a travel blogger driven crazy by too much travel and not enough time to blog?
Nah, it’s just yours truly doing the cultural thing at London, Kentucky’s World Chicken Festival!
World Chicken Festival Fun Facts
Halfway between Lexington, KY and Knoxville, TN, you’ll find the sleepy town of London nestled in the heart of Laurel County, Kentucky. Southeastern Kentucky isn’t the biggest hotbed of tourism, but this town of 8,000 knows how to throw a massive party. In fact, it hosts one of the biggest festivals in all of Kentucky. (Side Note: What is it about small Southern United States towns throwing awesome, gigantic festivals? Shades of the National Cornbread Festival, anyone?)
For four days during the last full weekend in September, Laurel County’s heart and stomach are captured by fried chicken and the man who started it all with Kentucky Fried Chicken—Colonel Harland Sanders. No longer alive, his legacy thrives in one of the largest restaurant fast food chains in the world…as well as in Laurel County, home of his first restaurant. And what better way to celebrate this cultural food heritage than with a festival?
Nope, no better way. And the festival’s longevity proves that so many agree–the World Chicken Festival started in 1989! The 2016 festival organizers estimated a record-busting 200,000 people attended with roughly 60,000 visiting from other states. For those counting, that’s worth 7,000 pounds of fried chicken….and a whole lotta finger-lickin’. (Along with other fun!)
Getting To London, Kentucky
But before the finger-lickin’ chicken comes the journey. For many people, that means a decent amount of travel since Laurel County is not too close to a major city. I strongly recommend driving to London. And if you live farther away, fly to a nearby city, rent a car, and drive to London. The nearest cities by distance include the following:
- Knoxville, TN – 1 hour 30 minutes (via I-75N)
- Lexington, KY – 1 hour 45 minutes (via I-75S)
- Louisville, KY – 2 hours 30 minutes (via I-64E, I-75S)
- Cincinnati, OH – 2 hours 45 minutes (via I-75S)
- Nashville, TN – 3 hours (via I-65N, Hwy KY-68, Hwy KY-80, I-75S)
Of those choices, I do not recommend driving from Nashville. Not only is it the highest distance, but it also requires a less direct path with multiple key roads. Plus, you lose an hour by crossing from the Central Time Zone to the Eastern Time Zone. And that time matters if you drive to the festival on Saturday for its Saturday events! That being said, the Nashville route is praiseworthy for its natural beauty in rolling hills and foliage.
Pro Tip 1: Obviously, 200,000 attendees is a ton of people, and parking is at a premium in this small town. Arrive early if you want to secure a good parking space near the festival. Better yet, arrive the night before you plan to enjoy the festival. (Especially if you are driving from the Central Time Zone.)
Pro Tip 2: If you’re flexible, you can avoid paying for parking. After some exploration of the area (as well as frustration…), I found a great parking space near the festival for free! However, the later you arrive, the less likely that possibility becomes.
Pro Tip 3: Bring some sort of GPS or map device, and use it! South Main Street, Broad Street, and connecting side streets are completely closed during this festival. That forces attendees to detour into other side streets. At two points, I drove behind a store into an alley that was only questionably a road. And I wasn’t alone in that kind of detour. My cell phone map and location services saved me until I found my perfect parking spot!
Pro Tip 4: While you’re in the area with your vehicle, don’t forget to visit the Original KFC Museum, Sanders Court & Cafe. It’s just a short drive south on I-75 to Corbin, Kentucky!
The Main Event: Fried Chicken
You can’t have a World Chicken Festival celebrating fried chicken without…well…fried chicken. This festival does fried chicken with flair, hosting festival-goers in a humongous tent for a secret recipe version. And how would you like to see that version cooked in a 10-feet wide skillet? That’s right, they cook the chicken in a skillet larger than a human. Needless to say, they also have more than one chef cooking at one time.
Don’t worry though. Even with a decently long line, the wait is fairly short. The chicken line workers are experts, quickly filling orders to churn hungry people through the line into the dining tent. I stood in line 10 minutes before being able to order; and that seemed to be a relatively steady and typical line wait for the time I spent at the tent. I’ll note that I got in line to eat around 12:45 p.m.–not exactly an odd lunch time!
Pro Tip 5: It is still hot in the Southern United States during the late summer. Expect highs in the mid-80s in the middle of the day, and expect that you may not be able to stomach an entire chicken plate. I had to pass on the chicken plate ($9.00) after seeing how enormous the fried chicken breast was. The chicken snack ($7.00) is plenty, and I needed water instead! If you are in a group, a great option may be to buy one plate plus a dessert for two people and share. (Lighter eating ladies, that’s a big tip for you!)
Pro Tip 6: Attend the festival on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday to enjoy this main event food. No chicken from this tent is served on Sunday!
Pro Tip 7: Don’t miss the TWO record-setting giant skillets! The original World’s Largest Frying Skillet in the above photo is sitting in front of the area serving chicken. (With a statue of a chicken and Col. Harland Sanders, no less.) However, the currently utilized skillet (shown for a few seconds in my video) is behind the group taking orders and filling chicken plates.
World Chicken Festival Contests
If you’re not soaking up the history and eating, participate in a contest! As shown in my video, I clucked and strutted like a chicken in an attempt to win a $100 prize! But that’s not the only contest. Children ages 4-7 can compete in an Olympic-style competition called the Chick-A-Lympics. The local radio station sponsors a Hot Wing Eating Contest. And students can test their engineering skills in a Survival Egg Drop! (Noticing a chicken trend?) Even the above photo shows how creative citizens became in creating their own hopefully award-winning version of a piece of chicken art.
And if chicken isn’t your cup of broth, try the karaoke contest, the Col. Harland Sanders Look-a-like Contest, or one of the Kentucky state beauty pageants. Needless to say, plenty of options exist. The event organizers are creative and pull together fun opportunities for attendees!
Pro Tip 8: If you plan to compete in and win the Rooster Crowing, Clucking & Strutting Contest, make sure that you practice. You’ll likely compete against a local multi-year champion. I was one of only four competitors, and I still lost! (And I thought I performed admirably! Judge for yourself in my video!)
World Chicken Festival Musical Acts
Part of the fun opportunities are bands. Music performances abound, and Nashville should watch out for the great talent featured here! Coming from Music City USA, I was a bit surprised to hear such great music. Local bands are impressive as are the headliners. Perhaps most impressive was 13-year old Madison Lewis who led her band Madison Lewis & The Blues Society. She is a local; don’t be surprised to hear her perform for a few years (in London and beyond).
But equally impressive was THE. BEST. CONCERT. EVER. The Hootz opened for 2016 headliner and former Poison frontman Bret Michaels. London, KY imports an opening act and a major artist for Saturday night. The kicker? The concert’s free, and this one drew 13,000 fans. And if you’re looking to see how much rock The Rock of Love brought, watch my festival video and this full song:
He was amazing, and I really can’t do the concert justice in words. The 2017 concert should draw large crowds as well as the World Chicken Festival takes a “Slow Ride” with Foghat. These are no small town bands, and they come to party hard with all the rowdy chicken crowds.
Pro Tip 9: Arrive early to the main concert which will start around 8:00 p.m. I arrived at 5:45 p.m. and discovered many individuals staked positions hours earlier. (Plus, this early arrival will allow you to see the opening act.) I would not arrive any later than around this point; within 15 minutes, a fast-growing crowd completely surrounded me.
Pro Tip 10: If you are able to arrive early to the main concert, bring several items to ease the wait. First, bring a camping chair so you have a place to rest. Second, bring sunscreen to prevent a sunburn. Third, bring water to stay hydrated.
Pro Tip 11: If a member of your party is willing to do so, let one person setup multiple chairs and save space for your group near the stage. Why do you want to be so proactive? Because others are going to create concentric chair circles around the stage and make a close position to the stage difficult! That’s why I was not closer to the stage.
Nothin’ But A Good Time…at The World Chicken Festival
I’m not sure I could end on a more appropriate conclusion title than this. From start to finish, I loved my full day of activities at the World Chicken Festival. The fact that this is one of the largest festivals in the entire state of Kentucky (as well as likely the Southeastern United States) is a testament to how much Laurel County and London, KY work to make this a destination festival. And it’s 100% true…I had Nothin’ But A Good Time.
Have you visited the World Chicken Festival? What did you think, and what tips do you have for attendees? Comment below! Until next time…toodles!
Ha! I have to admit, it did make me laugh but it sounds amazing. I feel like I’ve seen this festival profiled before on Food Paradise? Good to know it’s worth a stop in–we definitely are looking forward to exploring Kentucky!