The time of the year is upon us again. For the past 53 years the Florida Seafood Festival, Florida’s oldest maritime event has taken place in historic Apalachicola. The Florida Seafood Festival actually started over 100 years ago in 1914 on the docks of Apalachicola. The first King Retsyo (oyster spelled backwards and the trademark of the Florida Seafood Festival) was crowned in the spring of 1914 at what was then Mardi Gras.
The festival took on many forms over the years - Mardi Gras, Harbor Days, The Apalachicola Seafood Festival. Then in 1963, led by a young man and good friend of mine Mr. Billy Spikes, the Florida Seafood Festival was anointed Florida’s Oldest Maritime Event and named the Florida Seafood Festival by the state legislature. Many great men and women have served on the board of volunteer directors including Mayor Jimmie Nichols. But, mostly very dedicated community volunteer-minded men and women who have gone unnamed have served as volunteer directors over the years. Each one has played a special part into the building and creating the festival to what it has become today.
One of the most touching moments during the time I have been on the board is when Mr. Billy Spikes attended the 50th annual event. As the evening was winding down, he put his arm around me and said “John, this is amazing. When we started we always dreamed this is what it would become.” He then thanked me and the board for continuing on with the dream those young men had. The current board of directors would like to thank the men and women who have come before us and dedicated their time to this wonderful community event.
This year, like many other, the volunteer board of directors have worked since January planning an event that would be one for the history books. The first thing many of you might notice is the Festival Carnival. This year, for the first time ever, the Carnival (not the Festival) will begin on Thursday night at 6 p.m. and also be open on Sunday, Nov. 6 from 2 to 10 p.m. Entry into the carnival area will be through the Water Street gate for Thursday and Sunday. The festival’s board of directors searched high and low for a new company to host the rides this year and we are very pleased with the company we finally acquired, Modern Midways. They are bringing many rides to fill the carnival area with something for everyone.
Then, starting on Friday, Nov. 4th the gates open at 10 a.m. and so does the carnival, which will run until the park closes. At 3 p.m. Christian music will start filling the air from the main stage, followed by the Blessing of The Fleet on the far east side of the park. After the conclusion of the Blessing, the King and Queen will lead a procession to the center of the park to the information booth where there the opening ceremonies will begin.
Which brings us to the second newest addition to the festival this year. During the opening ceremonies the festival will be holding a Veterans Celebration honoring our veterans. It will be attended by the Port St. Joe High School NJROTC Color Guard with the help of instructor retired USN Commander Anthony Almon with a flyover by two T-38 Talon Air Force jets out of Tyndall Air Force Base.
The opening ceremonies will be led by Apalachicola Mayor Pro Tem Brenda Ash followed by King Retsyo TJ Ward and Miss Florida Seafood Corie Cates. At 5 p.m. Christian music will resume on the main stage headlined by our dual Christian music headliners Ardent Worship at 7 p.m. and The Shepards at 8:30 p.m.
On Saturday Nov. 5 the festival starts off with the 5K Redfish Run, with registration on the steps of the historic Gibson Inn beginning at 7 a.m. At 10 a.m. the parade starts on Hwy 98 from 12th Street to Market Street. The gates of the Festival also open at 10 a.m. with over 95 arts and craft booths and a plethora of seafood choices, highlighted by our local seafood prepared and served by local non-profit groups (local seafood prepared and served by locals).
At 1 p.m. the Oyster Shucking Contest begins. The Florida Seafood Festival is very honored to announce that our representative to the National Oyster Shucking Championships held Oct. 16 at the St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival in Maryland was crowned the 2016-17 National Oyster Shucking Champion. The 22 year old, who earned a berth in the nationals by shucking two dozen oysters in 2:41 at last year's Florida Seafood Festival, became the national champ when he opened two dozen oysters in just under three minutes. Congratulations Honor Allen of Panama City. Honor will be competing in this year’s contest defending his title, so as the saying goes, to be the best you have to beat the best. Well, we have the best.
Following the shucking contest will be the Oyster Eating Competitions. There are both a men’s and women’s contest. Also starting at 1 p.m. are the Blue Crab Races for children under 12; the races will be held between 1 and 5 p.m. on the hour. Please register your child early as the races fill up fast.
The Maritime event area located in the area of the large chair, which is sponsored by The Buccaneer Inn and Castaway Liquors, will feature many educational booths, and feature the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory Mobile Marine Trailer with touch tanks and other neat things for kids and kids at heart. Also back this year in the Maritime event area is the “Tonging for Treasure” game. If you have ever wondered what the hard-working men and women who work on the oyster bars have to do to get our most precious resource to the consumer, then take a turn trying to “tong up” some oyster shells. You will have great respect for the job they do for sure.
The music starts filling the air at 4 p.m. on the main stage which is sponsored by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr. GMC, Buick, Cadillac. At 4 p.m. are the VonWamps, folowed by Boo Radley at 5 p.m., The Currys at 6 p.m. and then Clayton Anderson at 7 p.m. The headliner is country star Rodney Atkins at 8:30 p.m., bringing hits to the stage such as “If You’re Going Through Hell,”” Farmer’s Daughter,” “Take a Back Road” and “Watching You.”
We would like to thank the Franklin County TDC and all of our other Commodores for sponsoring the 53rd annual Florida Seafood Festival. Without our sponsors this grand event would not be possible. We would also like to thank the City of Apalachicola and the hard work of the work crews getting Battery Park prepared for the great event to come. We also thank the many volunteers it takes to make this event go smoothly.
As mentioned the Florida Seafood Festival volunteer board of directors is made up of 12 hardworking and dedicated volunteers who give up time away from family and friends not only for the weekend of the festival, but during the year in the planning process. This group does it for nothing but the feeling of a job well done and bringing the best possible event to the community. I can say that it is an honor to call myself a member of the board and I thank each and every one of them for the hard work that has gone into planning this year’s Florida Seafood Festival.
The Florida Seafood Festival Board would like to invite everyone to come out Friday, Nov. 4 and Saturday Nov. 5 and celebrate with us what makes this county so special - the people and the wonderful seafood. Nothing is more special than seeing a grandparent share with their grandchildren how the festival was when they were a child. This is not only a festival, it is a tradition that is many years old and will continue well into the future, one that in recent years has been named one of the Top 15 Small Town Festivals in America and the No. 6 Oyster Festival in the world. Not bad for a community of just over 11,000 people! See you all at Battery Park in Apalachicola this weekend.
John C. Solomon is president of the volunteer board of directors of the Florida Seafood Festival.