We people in Northeastern Nebraska are familiar with one of the few festivals that rival the State Fair as a summertime highlight… The Wayne Chicken Show. It’s a festival held each second weekend of July. As far as I know, it’s the only such festival anywhere. At least it’s the only one that has been mentioned on “The Tonight Show”.
Johnny Carson and Jay Leno made on-air mentions of the event and Leno even invited winners of the Rooster Crowing Contest to appear on the program to imitate a rooster. The festival has also been featured in the US Library of Congress.
The town of Wayne is the optimal size and make-up to hold a successful agricultural festival of this type. The 5,000-plus population town is large enough to have a viable, healthy commercial economy. Wayne has been a trade and shopping town for the surrounding area ever since its founding. It has been especially fortunate to be the site for one of the Nebraska state colleges–Wayne State College. The school is probably one of the main reasons for Wayne’s long term prosperity.
The Wayne Chicken Show first took place in July of 1981. The organizing group, The Wayne Regional Arts Council, says they chose to celebrate chickens because of their potential for artful material, the familiarity that chickens and people share, and that chickens are often associated with humor. I’m also guessing that another reason for the chicken topic is that many people in Wayne work at a large poultry and egg processing plant in the neighboring town of Wakefield.
The chicken show is a punster’s delight. Wherever possible, the promoters have tried to use chicken and egg puns to describe displays and contests and the event itself. For instance, they salute commercial a sponsors by saying their financial support has made the Chicken Show “fun and cheep” for attendees.
Each year, the first day of the festival is “Henoween”. Yesterday the business area of Main Street was closed to traffic to allow a street fair to happen. Typical festival activities take place like children’s games, craft vendors, and food booths. One of the activities is “The World’s Largest Chicken Dance”. That one is sponsored by the Wayne State College cheer-leading squad.
Saturday, today, is the main day of the festival. The first event is the 5-K “Chicken Run” sponsored by the town’s hospital. Afterwards, is the small-town parade of business vehicles and chicken-themed floats begins the day for most people. What follows is a variety of chicken themed events. The most surreal and famous being the “National Cluck-Off” where people compete in an effort to sound and behave like chickens. There are prizes for the best performers.
A unique experience takes place at the Wayne State College Science Building. There are five planetarium shows also “eggs-periments” take place in the laboratories this afternoon.
The messiest event of the day is the raw egg drop. Contestants try to catch raw eggs that are dropped from a utilities department bucket crane. The person who catches an egg from the greatest height, without it breaking, is the winner. As you would expect, a street cleaning truck must tidy the pavement afterwards.
Sunday is more laid-back. The “Crowing Motors Car Show” takes place at the municipal airport all day. At 1:00 tomorrow afternoon is the Poker Run with vehicles making a circuit drive to neighboring small towns to raise money for a non-profit organization.
By the way, this year’s theme is, “Nebraska, a Great Place to Roost”. It’s the Chicken Show’s salute to Nebraska’s 150th anniversary of statehood.