It isn’t every day you see a sheriff in chaps riding a seahorse and chasing a nun who’s really a clam thief, all while a tiny baby, dressed as a pearl, sleeps soundly on the shoulder of her dad wearing a fishtail tailcoat and sporting a crab trap top hat.
That’s the zaniness that marked the highlight of last Saturday’s 28th annual Carrabelle Riverfront Festival - the Fishy Fashion Show – marking its most elaborate production in the dozen years it has flourished under founder and organizer Joan Matey, and scores of uninhibited locals.
A tribute to repurposing everything from abandoned beach umbrellas to used oyster sacks, the show features costumes sewn from the sort of debris known to befoul area beaches, sending a powerful message to keep Franklin County’s bays, rivers, and shores cleared of trash.
With Susan David pounding out a melodramatic score on keyboards, Matey, dressed in a fresh outfit, narrated the most intricate story to date, weaving together the traditional characters with several new ones.
Rodney Reeves, as the Legionnaire de Mer, opened the show in his striking blue jacket made of a torn-up sail, fashioned by Matey.
After that, as the Coastal Couple, Cory Lee and Caci Wallace strode out, with their infant daughter Amara asleep on papa’s soldier, and their young daughter River Everett gaily dressed as Sponge Bonnet Sue, complete with a sponge from the Apalachicola Sponge Exchange as her chapeau.
Franklin County High School junior Greg Riley then appeared as St. George the Lionfish Slayer, in a kilt woven from discarded beach chair webbing, followed next by the Bayside Bride and Beach Bandito, Cat and George Young, the couple’s outfits featuring the allure of oyster sacks, donated to Matey when the fashion show first began by the now late Cat Stiner, owner of a Carrabelle oyster house “who told one of the women shucking oysters to go in the back and pick out four of the best sacks they had.”
After that strode in Ute May as the “Red Tide She Devil,” whose outfit was made from a discarded spinnaker sail and adorned with shrimp net chain sewn by Julie Argue of Tallahassee.
“We can help to appease the Red Tide She Devil by planting only native species that don’t need fertilizing,” Matey told the crowd. “It all flows into the water, folks, and that’s what helps to cause the unnatural crazy overgrowth of the red algae. Let’s be more conscious of our own polluting habits.”
Next came the Shoreline Sheriff, played by the county’s actual sheriff, A.J. Smith, twirling a toy pistol and riding a seahorse, and on the lookout for Clamity Jane, who later turned out to be Saint Teresa Beach, the “oystered Carrabellite” nun who sat quietly in the front row throughout the show, later to appear with The Good Fryer, a monk in an oyster sack frock, played by Bob Inguagiato.
After Cass Allen pirouetted in her parasol as The Sea Vamp, came scampering on stage to close the frivolities Netty the Nautical Nymph, played by Megan Shiver, dressed in a sky blue tutu and waving a weathered wire wand.
With sunny weather, the two-day festival drew a sizeable crowd, according to Steve Allen, the festival organizer.
“It was probably one of our best years,” he said. “It was certainly an improvement over last year’s dismal attendance.
“It was a good, steady strong crowd with a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” Allen said.
He said the decision to extend the Saturday hours until 8 p.m. didn’t turn out as beneficial as he had hoped, and that will probably not continue next year. Allen is also working on improving the programming for Friday night.
“That’s one area I could improve on, perhaps make Friday something uniquely local,” Allen said.
He said while it is difficult to gauge precise attendance, two indicators attested to the crowd.
The Florida Public Archaeology Network, which last year said they had 300 “clicks” at their tent, had close to 700 this year. In addition, the festival sold out of its more than 300 t-shirts.
Entertainment this year included Friday evening’s Cypress Trio, and Low Country Boyle, as well as a reception for the 65 vendors who set up booths.
On Saturday, in the lead-up to the Fishy Fashion Show, entertainment included Cody Gander and The Naked Water Band, Susan David, the Tallahassee Community College dancers, Frank Lindamood, Van Johnson, and then Debi Jordean opening for Big Daddy and Red Hot Java, the featured act.
He said one moving moment took place when Will McClain belted out “The Legend of Tate’s Hell,” along with Lindamood.
“It was bone chilling,” said Allen.