You can watch outdoor “ice” hockey in downtown Buffalo, in 80-degree weather. You can watch, or march in, the Labor Day parade. You can enter yodeling and sauerkraut-eating contests in Cheektowaga Town Park. You can watch a re-creation of the 1813 British assault from the War of 1812 at the actual Old Fort Niagara site. You can sample craft beers from more than 20 breweries in Island Park, Williamsville.
And, of course, you can celebrate the unofficial end of summer the real Buffalo way, downing as many chicken wings as your digestive system can stomach in Coca-Cola Field.
Antacids, we celebrate you.
All that means, of course, that Labor Day weekend is here.
Alas, as much as these late-summer events remind us that another Buffalo winter is right around the calendar corner, there is a lot to celebrate this weekend. Instead of looking toward the inevitable change of seasons, we can bask in our relatively moderate temperatures and appreciate all the efforts going into one last slam-bang summer weekend.
“I think it says a lot about the quality of life in Buffalo,” said National Buffalo Wing Festival founder Drew Cerza. “It’s like our Super Bowl weekend. We have a short summer, so we try to pack so much in.
“It’s like our last hurrah.”
Unfortunately, that could be a wet hurrah. As we celebrate the end of summer, the weather gods may poke a small hole in all the fun, promising intermittent “hit and miss” showers throughout the weekend.
“It is going to be an unsettled weekend all three days,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jon Hitchcock said Friday. “But there will be plenty of dry time.”
Entering the weekend, Hitchcock suggested that Monday may be the wettest of the three days, with Sunday probably the driest.
Showers, though, are likely for today, along with plenty of rain-free time.
“If people with outdoor plans Saturday can be flexible, they can get the events in,” Hitchcock said.
The weekend’s highlight, the big draw, the one that grabs some national attention, will be the chicken wing festival in Coca-Cola Field.
Now in its 12th year, the festival has served more than 4 million chicken wings.
It has also drawn some 655,000 people and donated more than $200,000 to local charities.
The festival, running from noon to 9 p.m. today and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday, is crammed with events, including at least four wing-eating contests, capped by the national Chicken Wing Eating Contest at 4 p.m. Sunday. There also are contests for amateur eaters, pro football alumni and college students. The full schedule is available at buffalowing.com.
Cerza also touted the newest feature of the festival.
“I finally broke down, and we have vegetable wings for the first time,” he said, before explaining that a vegetable wing is any nonmeat breaded and swabbed with cayenne sauce.
“So we’ve got breaded Gouda with Frank’s Hot Sauce, and we have spicy breaded green beans,” he added.
This year’s festival also will feature its first Healthy Zone, encouraging recipes that retain the zesty wing flavor but without so many calories.
Also new this year, kids – and maybe even their parents – can ride the “mechanical wing.”
“Similar to a mechanical bull, riders will jump onto a drumstick and ride until it bucks them off, where they land in a basket that looks like it is filled with wings!” the festival’s website states, referring to a pool of cushions decorated like a wing bucket.
Nearby, in the ballpark’s Exchange Street lot, they’ll drop the puck on another first, the Labatt Blue Wingman Hockey Tournament, all part of the wing festival.
Workers late Friday morning put the finishing touches on the 20-foot-by-40-foot synthetic ice rink being used for the tourney from noon to 9 p.m. today. Eight teams from recent winter pond-hockey tournaments have been selected to play.
The games are played two-on-two, with regulation-size pucks, pond-hockey nets and no goalies. This is a true small-area hockey game, with the length one-fifth that of a regulation rink and the width about one-fourth as wide.
How is synthetic ice made?
“The synthetic ice rink is made of injected panels that contain special polymers, creating a seamless, uniform skating surface that will look and perform much like ice,” the festival’s website says. “... The surface does not require special skates or hockey equipment and is relatively easy to install and maintain.”
Elsewhere, another weekend event that no doubt will attract a different crowd will be this year’s War of 1812 Encampment at Old Fort Niagara, also a two-day event, in Youngstown.
The highlight will occur at 8 tonight, a dramatic twilight re-enactment of the British assault that overran the fort in December 1813, almost 200 years ago, organizers say. Spectators must be inside the fort by 7 p.m., for safety reasons.
“I think the unique thing about this re-enactment is that it’s performed on the original grounds, in the same time frame,” said Robert L. Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara.
More information about the event is available at www.oldfortniagara.org.
Among the other weekend events is the second annual Beer and Bacon Festival, from noon to 6 p.m. today in Island Park, 5565 Main St., Williamsville.
About two dozen breweries will supply craft beers, while eight local restaurants and vendors will serve their different bacon creations. Proceeds from the event will support the Breast Cancer Network of Western New York, with more information available at www.bcnwny.org.
In keeping with the eating and drinking theme of most festivals, anyone with roots reaching to Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein or Switzerland may celebrate that heritage at the 2013 German American Heritage Festival, featuring a European car show, the Brothers Grimm Kinder Park, waltz demonstrations and contests in sauerkraut-eating and yodeling.
The event, from noon to 10 p.m. today and Sunday, will be held in Cheektowaga Town Park.
Meanwhile, as the weekend approached, with this year’s 40 tons of wings already in tow, Cerza and his staff have become so experienced putting on their annual two-day wing-a-thon that he admitted to not being too nervous Friday about the event.
“I’m stressed because I’ve got nothing to be stressed about,” he confessed. “I’m not used to being in that situation.”