The inaugural Delta Chicken Festival held 62 years ago was a much simpler affair: 900 half chickens were grilled at its Main Street site.
When the annual three-day event opens this weekend at Delta Municipal Park, the first of 5,200 chicken halves will begin grilling as visitors are invited to participate in a host of entertaining activities, listen to music, and browse vendor booths. The festival, which begins Friday at 5 p.m. and closes Sunday at 7 p.m., is the village’s signature event, drawing people from around the region for food, fun, fireworks, and a traditional parade.
“We’re continuing to try to have a little bit of something for everybody,” said Kathy Miller, festival chair.
That “something” includes a couple of new features including a flea market area and a Saturday evening showcasing local talent. “Saturday should be interesting,” Miller said.
Beginning at 5 p.m., Friday’s festivities will feature musical performances by Noisy Neighbors and 56 Dayz. In the food pavilion, the Warren Trio will offer acoustic guitar and blended harmonies.
A 3-on-3 basketball tournament and a youth baseball tournament will both kick off at 6 p.m., followed by fireworks at 10:30 p.m. sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Eagles #2597 and its auxiliary.
Saturday will be a big day for sporting competitions. At 8 a.m., the festival will host the annual 5K Chicken Run sponsored by Dave’s Running Shop, which attracted about 100 participants in 2017. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. A baseball tournament resumes at 8 a.m., and a 3-on-3 soccer tournament on the school district’s varsity football field begins at 9 a.m. There will also be a 5-on-5 football tournament at 3 p.m., and a Delta High School Alumni Baseball Game beginning at 5 p.m. on the school district’s baseball diamond. The Delta Community Band hits the Food Pavilion Stage from 5-6 p.m., followed by live entertainment from 7-10 p.m.
A corn hole tournament will be held at noon Saturday.
On Sunday at 9 a.m. the Chicken Festival’s annual Car, Truck, and Motorcycle Show will be displayed in the parking lot east of the football stadium. A Christian Church service will be held 11 a.m. on the Food Pavilion Stage, and the John Galbraith Family will perform.
All festival activities stop between 2-3:30 p.m. to accommodate the annual parade, this year with grand marshals John and Gloria Forrest, community-oriented residents and past chairmen for the festival parade. Activities will resume at 3:30 p.m. and continue to the festival’s conclusion at 7 p.m.
Along the way during the weekend visitors can sample a flea market, indulge in 12 food vendors and 30 product vendors, enjoy milkshake and hamburger stands and other concessions, bingo, a Big 6 wheel, and Michigan-based Animal Oasis with Don Strobel. D & R Shows will provide rides and games, and WPFX-107.7 FM “The Wolf” will air live broadcasts.
And adults can enjoy a beer garden at E. Taylor Street, on the Delta Middle School driveway, which will also feature music.
The festival’s biggest draw, however, is its famous $10 chicken dinner, served all weekend. A chicken half on its own is $6.
The Chicken Festival began in 1956, one year after the village purchased 23 acres of land to develop Delta Municipal Park. The festival was inspired by a major village chicken hatchery operating in the 1950s.
“Delta had a lot of chicken finishing farms as well, so that was how they decided in part to have a chicken festival,” Miller said. The former Grange Hall in Winameg was initially used to grill the chicken in an open pit.
The Chicken Festival has made its home in Delta Municipal Park since 1960. Even today, all festival proceeds go to the village’s Park and Recreation Board for maintenance and improvements. This year, an aged tennis court was removed and the shelter house will be renovated.
The festival brings about a sense of community among the villagers, Miller said.
“Back in the old days it was mostly adult volunteers. Now the great majority of the festival volunteers are kids,” she said. “So we get the parents and the kids, and the parents enjoy the kids doing something worthwhile for the community.”
Delta Mayor Dan Miller said the festival chairmen have done a good job continuing the traditions of the event.
“All northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan and northeastern Indiana should come to Delta to enjoy the chicken, family fun, the fireworks, and all the events,” he said.
Admission and parking are free.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.