The cool air swept in this past weekend just about the same time as the flags were going up along Highway 98 in Apalachicola, and the campers and rides began pulling into Battery Park. It can only mean one thing. The 54th annual Florida Seafood Festival is near.
All over the world people celebrate holidays of many different kinds, but here in Franklin County we celebrate the coming of the Florida Seafood Festival. For the past 54 years it has been held on the first weekend of November and for 50 years before that held throughout the year. So whether it is Mardi Gras, Harbor Days or the Florida Seafood Festival, it is definitely the granddaddy of them all.
The festival means different things to different people. A homecoming to some, a celebration to others. To the all-volunteer board of directors it’s a love, a love of community, a love of tradition and a love of the festival. Why else do it, why else go through the stress of planning, organizing, and execution? I am proud to be one of those 12 directors. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and ask everyone when you see those dedicated volunteers to thank them as well. They started in January of this year planning for this weekend’s event. They work diligently to make sure as many people have as great a time as possible.
The festival this year will feature over 90 arts and crafts booths, many being local vendors. As well, the local seafood is again being prepared by local nonprofit groups, ranging from boiled crabs, seafood gumbo, raw oysters, fried oysters, low country boil, fried mullet, fried shrimp and many other local seafood favorites. The festival is proud to be able to provide tents and tables to have these great community non-profits to sell our local seafood. These groups do not have to pay anything to have a spot in the festival. But lovers of fair food don’t fret; you can expect the bloomin’ onions, funnel cakes and foot-long corndogs as well.
This year the carnival preview night is still going on so at 6 p.m. on Thursday night we will be opening the Water Street gate entrance for access to the carnival ‘till 11 p.m. All Florida Seafood Festival gates open at 10 a.m. on Friday (no admission fee) with the first event being the Blessing of the Fleet at 4 p.m. This is an annual event at the festival and we encourage all fishing vessels and pleasure boats to attend. Its purpose is to bless the boats and their captains for a safe journey and bountiful harvest.
Following the Blessing of the Fleet are the opening ceremonies held at the center of the festival grounds at the information booth, where King Retsyo Brett Martina and the 2017 Miss Florida Seafood Brooke Martina will welcome everyone to the 54th annual Florida Seafood Festival. Once the opening ceremonies are complete the Friday entertainment will start with local Christian musical groups who will play ‘till 8:30 p.m., when the headliner Christian group “I Am They” take the stage.
Saturday, Nov. 4 starts off with the 5K Redfish Run. Registration starts at 7 a.m. on the steps of the Gibson Inn with the run starting at 8 a.m. Then the parade down Highway 98 starts at 10 am. , led by Miss Florida Seafood and King Retsyo. This year the grand marshal of the parade is President of the Florida Seafood Festival John Solomon. I would like to thank the board for asking me to be this year’s grand marshal. I was very touched when they called and asked. (Best meeting I ever missed).
Entrance to the park opens at 10 a.m. with $5 entry fee and free to anyone under the age of 12. At 1 p.m. the oyster events start next to the main stage area. The oyster shucking and eating contests are something you do not want to miss. The winner of the shucking contest goes on to compete in the National Oyster Shucking Contest where the festival representative has won on many occasions, going on to Ireland to compete for the World Oyster Shucking Championship. This year our US champion returns fresh off winning the national championship in Maryland two weekends ago. Honor Allen, a two-time US Champion. 2016 and 2017, also competed in the World Shucking Championship and finished 13th.
The blue crab races are free for all kids under age12 and start at 1 p.m. with a race held on the hour until the last race at 5 p.m. Musical entertainment begins at 4:30 p.m. on the main stage and goes until 8:30 p.m. when the headliner of the festival will go on stage. This year the festival headliner is country music star Jerrod Neimann, bringing his hit songs like “Lover, Lover” and “Drink to That All Night” to the stage.
Over the years the festival has grown and that credit has to be given to the community and the volunteer board of directors. An event as large as the festival does not happen overnight. It takes months of planning and preparing. It takes heart and dedication from all involved to pull off such a historic event. We want to take this time to thank our sponsors and volunteers, whether it be the Masons at the gates, the school classes selling t-shirts, the non-profit groups that run the food booths or the many other community members that help set up and keep everything running smoothly. A special thank you to the city of Apalachicola and its staff, they are the backbone of the work at Battery Park for weeks leading up to the event. Again to the other 11 members of the volunteer board of directors of the Florida Seafood Festival who unselfishly give their time to make this event such a special time of year. I again thank you for your hard work and dedication to the Florida Seafood Festival, for it would not be what it is today without you.
So as you feel that cool breeze in the morning, see the flags along Highway 98 and you get the feeling like I do, that something special is fixing to happen! Know that on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4, the 54th annual Florida Seafood Festival will be held, continuing its tradition of being Florida’s oldest maritime event and the largest event in the area. We welcome you to come see what makes Franklin County such a wonderful place.
John Solomon is the president of the Florida Seafood Festival board of directors.