All aboard The Moe Train
08/23/2016 09:54AM ● Published by Richard Gaw
Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to be moments away from emerging from the darkened tunnels of a massive indoor sports arena, where the only light you see is out there – in the bursting spectacle that you are about to be a part of.
In the dark, you hear them, the more than twenty thousand people who have come to see the big event, and they are drowning out whatever is left of the voice in your head that tells you that this is what an athlete must feel, or a rock star, who stand momentarily in the catacombs of silence, before the bell rings or the buzzer sounds or the first note is struck.
About the only thing you can feel inside your body are your nerves and your heart, and they are both competing to see which of the two will be the first to burst out of you. An usher comes up and asks if you are ready. You nod, the curtain is drawn back, and you enter a place generally reserved for very few, and the noise you hear is like thunder and ocean waves, and you disappear into it. On the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 2014 -- and again the following year -- Monty “Moe Train” Wiradilaga of Kennett Square entered into an avalanche of lights and sound at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to compete in Wing Bowl 22 and 23, the annual tribute to gastronomy and debauchery that pits competitive eaters in a contest to see who can consume the most chicken wings. Wiradilaga, adorned in a handsome black suit, sugar skull makeup, and his signature red bandanna, stood atop a float that served as a facsimile of a train. The next year, he entered the arena on a float that was a tribute to Mardi Gras.
After a successful debut in Wing Bowl 22, Wiradilaga made it into the second round of competition by consuming 108 wings in the first round and 72 in the second, and finished in 8th place, overall. If his first appearance at Wing Bowl served as the introduction of the Moe Train, then his second cemented his place as one of the event's most recognizable personalities.
“It was an incredible experience, an amazing party atmosphere that's absolutely insane,” said Wiradilaga, “I've always likened Wing Bowl to Wrestlemania. When you roll into the arena and see twenty thousand people screaming 'Moe Train!' it was like a light switch had just clicked on. It's pure madness, and it's all happening at six o'clock in the morning.”
It's the same kind of energy that Wiradilaga will bring to this year's Mushroom Festival, where he will serve as the master of ceremonies at the festival's fried mushroom eating contest. This year's event will no doubt resemble that of previous contests, but with a kicked-up sense of showmanship that Wiradilaga has become known for, beginning with the fact that he will be in full Moe Train regalia.
"I will intentionally turn on the intensity and really play up the crowd -- to get people on the Moe Train," he said. "When I put the make-up on and go into character, it's almost like I embody the persona that's a combination of The Ultimate Warrior and The Rock.
"The fried mushroom eating contest is definitely a highlight of the festival, and when the organizing committee asked me my interest in serving as MC of the contest, they asked me if I had any worries about being able to do this. I told them that if I can get in front of twenty thousand people atop an eight-foot float and play to the entire crowd like it was nothing, I know I can do this."
In addition to the Moe Train persona, Wiradilaga will infuse a few other new things to the contest. Through his contacts in the competitive eating field, he has recruited a number of professional eaters in the Pennsylvania-Delaware-Maryland-Virginia area to compete, which adds a lot of local flavor to the event. By August, he was already on pace to break the record of eaters, and increased the prize money for the top three finishers, as well as included bonus awards for those in the local eating category. Wiradilaga has been working not only with the festival committee but with Buona Mushrooms in Landenberg, who will donate their delicious fried mushrooms for the contest.
Every year, the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival serves as a love letter to the local mushroom industry, as well as to the people who call Chester County home, so it is only right that Wiradilaga take on the role of hosting one of the festival's showcase events. A father of three, Wiradilaga grew up in Kennett Square, where as a young boy, he realized that he had a love for performing in front of people. He was in the school play, he practiced his Michael Jackson dance moves, and he excelled at baseball. By the time he entered West Chester University, he was a Major League prospect, and although an arm injury curtailed his pitching career, he was the lead singer in a punk-reggae band.
Being in the band and performing after giving up baseball was not a step down but a climb back up -- energy, simply transferred, and achieved before an audience. After graduating, Wiradilaga created Moe Train's Tracks, a Podcast music show that regularly drew thousands of listeners per month, and regularly had a quarter of a million listeners on iTunes. As part of the broadcast, he would travel to major music festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Rothbury and Mayhem Fest, and interview the likes of Chuck D from Public Enemy, Ziggy Marley, Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
"Throughout my life, I have chosen to go huge or just don't do it," he said. "When I started the Podcast, I quickly found that people really enjoyed my shows, telling stories and talking about music and entertainment. I wanted to show my viewers what these entertainers are really like, when it's more than just question after question. It was there that I learned the art of conversation."
Wiradilaga has brought the skills of conversation back home. He's hosting “Moe Train Eats: Kennett Square” a three-episode video series that will be broadcast on Podcast, Youtube and social media, begining in the fall. The show, produced by MAKE Productions in Wilmington, will capture Wiradilaga as he explores the food, fun and nightlife throughout Kennett Square.
In each hour-long episode, the team will visit five locations, and so far, the roster of the places he will visit reads like a who's who of Kennett Square must-sees: Kennett Design, The Creamery, the Kennett Brewing Company, the Half Moon Restaurant & Saloon and La Michoacana.
The second episode in the "Moe Train Eats” series will take Wiradilaga to the Victory Brewing Company, the Galer Estate and Winery, the Summer Concert Series in Anson B. Nixon Park and other locations. The third episode will showcase the 2016 Mushroom Festival.
For those who attend this year's fried mushroom eating contest, they will not only get to see Moe Train in action, but a long-time friend of Kennett Square.
"My vision is to bring an electric atmosphere to the festival, an energy level that will give more to the community than just an hour of entertainment," Wiradilaga said. "I want the crowd to come to the event knowing that they're not just getting a great show, but something they will walk away from talking about for the next year."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail email@example.com.