1/16/20 Peter Fornieri, with jersey he won for the “Bison Best tailgate” at Ralph Wilson Stadium parking lot before a home game in November, 2014. A video crew took footage of them during the tailgate and played it back Live on the Jumbotron during the first quarter of the game. With tailgating at the stadium “off the table” (Bill’s mafia understands the pun) this year due to the pandemic, Pete has had to find other ways to get pumped up before the games. Along with John Yager who hosts the event, Pete is the co-creator of the Bonnie Brae Tailgate. [All photos by David Kramer]
Last week, in Celebrating and social distancing in Brighton, we met a crew of die hard Bills fans who’ve gaterered all season at the Bonnie Brae Tailgate. Warming themselves at the wood burning grill and with the occasional pilsner, the crowd booed mercilessly when the refs tried to job the Bills and offered a prayer of thanks when the Colts’ last play Hail Mary fell short, sending Buffalo to its first playoff win in 25 years.
On Saturday night, under a crisp, clear night only lacking a picturesque dusting of snow, the crew reveled in the Bills takedown of the Ravens, thrilling to Taron Johnson’s 101-yard pick-six, quickly dubbed a “franchise-altering play” as the Bills head to the AFC Championship game against Kansas City.Unfortunately, I had to leave early. On the short walk home, I listened to the game on my hand held radio. As the Ravens drove and looked to tie the game, I saw people watching tv’s in living rooms, looking nervous.
Then, in a franchise alerting instant, I heard John Murphy’s exultant call of Johnson’s interception. An excited roar emanated from the tailgate that may have shaken New Era Field. I considered going back, but felt with the crew in spirit. Besides, Buffalo was destined to win this game, so the Tailgate will last at least another week. See you Sunday when the Bills beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead in rematch of the 1993 AFC Championship Game.¹Before the game, I visited Pete Fornieri’s man cave that doubles as his basement music studio. A VP of product for a SAS Company (FieldEdge), by day, Pete is the lead guitarist for the The Fornieri Brothers Band. Tailgating is another of Pete’s creative outlets, joking that he considers tailgating to be akin to performance art.
In the cave, Pete has amassed a storehouse of Bills memorabilia and paraphernalia: 16 Bills pins — one for every year of being a season ticket holder, autographed jerseys and photos of players during the “glory days,” hats, ticket stubs, towels, and even a Bills gnome.
Pete tells us about his tailgating vision and style, how he won the Bison Best Tailgate at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and on recreating the experience of tailgating at New Era Field to a driveway in Brighton.
I’m a very passionate Bills fan. I’ve been to well over 100 games over the years and to me, there’s nothing like the experience of tailgating at the stadium before home games. It’s all about camaraderie, community, family, food and music. My father and I are season ticket holders along with our close friends, Marty Cranmer and Cathy Cook.
The preparation for a home game starts about a week before the game. First, we decide on the “main course.” This is usually hotdogs, burgers, or chicken and for one special game a year, we have steak. The appetizers also vary week to week; however, a staple appetizer is 5 dozen wings (enough for sharing).
We bring a 2000 Watt generator to power my 700 Watt Yamaha speaker system. From the speaker, fans hear my “tailgate shuffle,” a mix of great “party tunes” that has been fine-tuned over 16 years of tailgating (adding new songs and weeding out ones that didn’t go over so well). For me, the music is a critical part of the atmosphere.
At every tailgate, we have fans from other tailgates dropping by our tailgate and dancing to our music and requesting songs. Over the years, we’ve met and bonded with so many great folks this way; fans from Canada, the UK, and all parts of the country have dropped by and partied with us (camaraderie). We start grilling the wings around 9:30 am. By this time, all our gear is set up.
The gear consists of: 1 Bills flag, 1 Fairport Brewing Company Flag (community), 1 American Flag, a large Bills tent, a large grill, 3 tables including the Bills “Beer Pong” table that we won at the 2014 Bison Tailgate award. We bring a propane space heater for cold games, and several coolers filled with food and beverages make it to all the games. Sometimes we’ll have a crock pot hooked up to the generator when we decide swedish meatballs are the right appetizer for the game. For a typical 1:00 pm Sunday game, I leave my house at 7:00 am and return home to around 7 pm. It’s a long day but well worth it…especially when the Bills win!
Although I missed the Bills Stadium experience this season, what John Yager has created in his driveway/garage is also an awesome experience. All of the same elements are present only scaled down for safety reasons. We’ve watched all 16 regular season games outside this season along with both playoff wins. We’ve had a blast and I know exactly where I’m going to be watching the next two Buffalo Bills games/wins of the 2020/21 season!
¹ On January 23rd, 1994 the Bills beat the Chiefs at Rich Stadium in the AFC Championship Game. Below is the headline we want to read next Monday