When The Circus Comes To Town: The Deadbeats Hot Dog Eating Contest

Photo by Michael Kirton

Zeds Dead becomes inescapable in Denver over Independence Day. Fans swarm downtown, walking between breweries while sporting Deadbeats merchandise. The annual affair started in 2014 with a co-headlining slot at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in nearby Morrison, Colorado, alongside Dada Life. Now, nine years later, the two take over the venue for Deadrocks every July 2 and 3.

As the shows continued to sell out year after year, the Deadbeats team decided to expand to a third day, throwing a Fourth of July party at Denver’s Civic Center Park on the 4th. The day features performances from Zeds Dead and other Deadbeats artists, as well as a dunk tank and a hot dog eating contest. 

Last year, 10,000 people watched as 10 contestants stuffed down as many hot dogs as they could in three minutes. The winner of the 2022 contest, who ate six dogs, received a prize of tickets to all Deadrocks events the following year, as well as a spot on the guestlist for all Deadbeats events for a full year. (By comparison, Nicholas Wehry currently holds the record for most hot dogs eaten in three minutes with 12, a Guinness World Record set in Tampa, Florida, in 2022.)

“As last year’s winner put it, ‘The first one goes down easy, but you hit a wall after the second one,’” Bennett says. 

With so many onlookers, the Deadbeats hot dog eating contest now has bragging rights as one of the biggest in the U.S. 

“I take enormous pride in this hot dog eating contest,” Cody Chapman, an agent at Wasserman who books Zeds Dead, tells Pollstar. “What started essentially as a joke amongst a bunch of Canadians, like ‘Can Canadians throw the biggest July 4th hot dog eating contest in America?’ I think we’re actually the biggest west of the Mississippi now.”

The Deadbeats Jamboree hot dog contest currently remains second to Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest held in Brooklyn, New York’s Coney Island – which attracts 40,000 fans every year and is broadcast on ESPN to 2 million viewers. 

“We always joke about wanting to book some of the hot dog guys like Joey Chestnut [who in 2022 ate 63 hot dogs in 10 minutes],” Zeds Dead’s manager, Adam Gill, says. “But they can’t come because they have Nathan’s hot dog tournament the same day … It’s the one day a year where you can’t get these guys. It’s a little ridiculous. I’ll say, with Zeds Dead and Deadbeats, we definitely try to take the circus-comes-to town-approach whenever we show up somewhere.”

The first year, the hot dog contest took place off to the side of the Jamboree. Then, in 2022, the Deadbeats team wanted the contest to take more of the center stage, moving it to the mai stage as a 10-minute intermission between sets.

This year, Chapman promises there will be more to come. In the days leading up to the contest, Deadbeats posted on their Instagram a message from the defending champion: “While y’all are sleepin’, I’ll be working on my hot dog eatin’.” 

“We are stepping up the hot dog eating contest this year,” Chapman says. “The amount of care and love we put into this hot dog eating contest, the fact it’s a 10-minute intermission on a three-day run of shows, you wouldn’t believe how much time we actually spend talking about it and tweaking it and adding layers to it. And this year, I promise you, we are going to have the best darn Deadbeats Jamboree hot dog eating contest Colorado has ever seen.” 

When they first started throwing their Fourth of July party, they weren’t expecting the hot dog eating contest to become as massive as it has. 

“It was almost a joke when we said it and then we were just driven to make that joke real,” Chapman says. “It’s such a pleasure we actually get to roll out there year to year, with smiles enjoying every year like we do.” 

As their hot dog eating contest has grown, they talk of dreams to one day overtake Nathan’s. And Gill has some ideas of how to get a champion to come to the Deadbeats Jamboree.

“We need a retired champion,” Gill says. “I’m gonna get it one day.”