Nashville is known for two things—guitars and grub—and the Hot Chicken Festival in Nashville is a finger-lickin’ intersection of Nashville’s food and music scenes. As one of the newer Nashville festivals, the Music City Hot Chicken Festival, as it is properly known, was first held in 2007, but it’s already become a beloved annual event in the city. The Chicken Fest is presented by the Nashville Hot Chicken Coalition, a nonprofit education and community fundraising group, making the Hot Chicken Festival a perfect way to get a taste of Nashville and support a great cause at the same time.

Things You Need to Know

What is Nashville hot chicken?

Hot chicken is a regional Nashville comfort food that’s popular with locals and visitors alike. Hot chicken starts with a piece of chicken that’s been drenched in a seasoned marinade, then battered and deep-fried until crispy. Last, it’s slathered in hot sauce and served on a slice of white bread like an open-faced sandwich—usually accompanied by pickles or pickle chips.

Where and when is the Nashville Hot Chicken Festival held?

The Music City Hot Chicken Festival is held every July 4th in East Park, Nashville, a city park close to the intersection of I-24 and Route 41. Festivities begin at 10:30 a.m. with a Fire Truck Parade, and gates open at 11:00 a.m. The festival is over at 3:00 p.m., but attendees are encouraged to meander toward Downtown Nashville afterward in preparation for the evening’s fireworks display.

How much does the Hot Chicken Festival cost?

Admission to the Hot Chicken Festival doesn’t cost a cent to walk around. However, you will want to keep some cash in your wallet so you can buy hot chicken from the festival’s various vendors. If you start to feel burnt out on spicy chicken, there’s plenty of other festival food for sale, including barbecue, beer, and popcorn. You might also want to pick up a souvenir. Keep in mind that not all vendors accept credit cards, but there is an onsite ATM.

What else is there to do at Chicken Fest?

 Of course the Music City Hot Chicken Festival features live music! If your happy tears from finding a gourmet paradise have turned to tears of pain from a mouth on fire, you can take a break and head down to the stage for some local music. You might hear folk, country, rock, or blues—but in Nashville, you know whatever you hear will probably be catchy, fun, and really good.

Another Hot Chicken Festival event you shouldn’t miss is the Amateur Cooking Competition. During this event, teams of up to four cooks compete against one another to make the best hot chicken possible, right there on the spot. Winners are decided by a panel of expert judges, and the Kings or Queens of Hot Chicken receive an impressive trophy.

What’s the weather like, and what should I wear?

July in Nashville can be balmy if not downright humid. Temperatures stay in the 70s and 80s both day and night, so dress in breezy, comfortable clothing to avoid feeling sticky. Keep in mind that mosquitos are abundant in Nashville during the summer, so make sure to wear plenty of bug repellant before heading to the Hot Chicken Festival, which takes place entirely outdoors.

Anything else I need to know?

A few additional things to keep in mind as you plan your visit to Nashville’s Hot Chicken Festival:

  • The first 500 people to enter the festival receive free hot chicken samples. Though doors open at 11:00 a.m., the line starts forming far in advance, so arrive early if you want a shot at free chicken.
  • Guests are discouraged from bringing pets into the festival, so unless your dog is a service animal, you might want to leave your furry friend at home.
  • The Chicken Fest is open to all ages, so you’ll need to show valid ID before buying beer.
  • The Hot Chicken Festival happens as planned, come rain or shine. If the weather report looks dismal, just grab a poncho and get ready to dance in the rain!

Other hot chicken events

Nashville loves its hot chicken. So much, in fact, that in addition to the big festival, there’s also Hot Chicken Week. Beginning in 2017, the Nashville Scene newspaper started hosting the Nashville Scene Hot Chicken Week each January, during which participating Nashville restaurants sell their own unique versions of the dish for $5 a plate. Participating restaurants aren’t just chicken joints. In 2019, several Mexican restaurants and even a sushi restaurant joined the fun. Foodies are encouraged to sample as many different hot chicken dishes as possible during Nashville’s Hot Chicken Week, and some even have hot chicken for lunch and dinner at two different eateries. What is the best Nashville hot chicken? With tastings at just $5 a plate, Hot Chicken Week restaurants give you a head start in figuring it out.

Closest Airport and Transportation

Nashville International Airport is the nearest airport to Music City Hot Chicken Festival. Since flights to Nashville land at this major transportation hub every day, you’ll have no problem finding your way to the city. East Park, the site of the Chicken Fest, is only eight miles from the airport, and the drive typically takes about 15 minutes. After you find your hotel, there are several convenient ways to get to East Park:

  • Ridesharing: Uber and Lyft are ideal options for getting a group of people to the Hot Chicken Festival. Keep in mind that the festival takes place on July 4th, and surge pricing may come into play during hours and areas where demand is highest.
  • Public Transportation: Use Nashville’s public transportation system to easily get to East Park. Bus 30 goes from Downtown Nashville to the East Park stop at Main St. & N. 7th S.
  • Walking: If you’re up for some exercise, it’s easy to walk to the Chicken Fest from several key points in Nashville. It’s just a mile and a half from Downtown, and even closer to neighborhoods like Five Points and Greenwood.

Where to Stay

You’ll find classic Southern hospitality at many hotels in Nashville, and you’ll find exciting neighborhoods to explore while you’re in town for the Nashville Hot Chicken Festival. Since the Chicken Fest is just one day long, choose a hotel in an interesting part of town and spend a few extra days exploring.

  • Nashville’s connection to music is so legendary that its nickname is Music City. Recording studios, record labels, and radio stations are just a few of the iconic music business facilities that make their home in Music Row. Stay in this neighborhood and immerse yourself in the cultural history of Nashville’s hometown industry.
  • Five Points is a hip, recently revamped area of Nashville that’s home to a thriving food scene and plenty of down-home bars. Plus, Five Points is just a stone’s throw from East Park.
  • For electric nightlife, look for a hotel in Midtown. Clubs, bars, and music venues featuring everything from drag performances to rock shows will be rolling every night of the week in this district. Plus, you’re close to Downtown, making it easy to spend the daytime exploring the state capital.

Other Things to Do in Nashville

Hot chicken is just the first taste of all the cultural flavors you’ll find in Nashville. In a city where the chicken is hot, the music is hotter, and you could easily spend weeks exploring without running out of things to do, you should set aside some time to wander the city after the Chicken Fest ends. Set your sights on experiences you’ll only find in Nashville:

  • The Country Music Hall of Fame: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is more than just a museum—it’s also a research center, a music honor organization, and the storehouse for one of the most extensive music collections in the world. Permanent exhibits and temporary displays of costumes, artifacts, and photographs relating to American country and roots music tell a moving story of America’s rich musical heritage.
  • Capitol Grille: This restaurant has been open since 1910 and is one of the oldest restaurants in Nashville. Capitol Grille stays true to its Southern roots, but it also serves a fresh seasonal menu based on the current harvest from its own period garden. It’s a blend of history and hipness that makes Capitol Grille a can’t-miss dining experience.
  • Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint: Don’t miss out on the experience of eating authentic Nashville barbecue while you’re in the city. This smokehouse and barbecue restaurant pit-roasts a whole hog each day, which means the meat is always hot, fresh, and flavorful.

Nashville is a city of fried chicken, the Grand Ole Opry, and Southern hospitality. It’s also a city of innovation, where music careers are made, rock ‘n’ roll blasts from tiny packed clubs, and hot chicken is turned into a full-on festival. On Independence Day, we celebrate the things that make America a land of freedom, invention, individuality, and community. The Music City Hot Chicken Festival, held every year on Independence Day, with its diverse riffs on a classic food, live music, and friendly gathering of fellow fans, embodies all those things. What could be more American than that?