Whether it’s the cool breeze blowing or the fence going up around Battery Park, or even the flags going up along the historic parade route on Highway 98, whatever it is that makes you have that little tingle inside knowing what is about to happen.
It is the Florida Seafood Festival’s 50th anniversary at Battery Park in Apalachicola.
For 50 years members of the community has made sure a festival was held each year on the first weekend of November at Battery Park, celebrating our heritage and industry that have made this such a great community. This year, not being any different, 12 members of the volunteer board of directors of the festival have planned an event fit for a king (King Retsyo that is). The directors have worked all year to give the state’s oldest maritime event a 50th birthday like none other, by bringing back some of the old traditional activities.
The King Retsyo Ball makes its return to the schedule of events on Friday Nov. 1 at Fort Coombs Armory, starting at 9 p.m. and going until 1 a.m. The ball will have the band Crooked Shooz performing live and a buffet of local seafood dishes for all to enjoy.
The board also welcomes the return of the fireworks display to be held directly after the headline concert on Saturday, Nov. 2. The traditional events are still a big part of the festival and have been for many years.
The park opens at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, with free admission all day. Musical entertainment begins at noon. The festivities begin at 4 p.m. with the Blessing of the Fleet on the east side of the park where local fishing vessels and pleasure boats will be blessed by local clergymen. The Blessing of the Fleet is an old tradition to hope for a safe return to all fishermen and for a bountiful harvest in the upcoming season.
Following the Blessing of the Fleet will be a procession of the Miss Florida Seafood Morgan Martin and King Retsyo Vance Millender from the Water Street gate to the information booth in the center of the festival grounds. There, opening ceremonies will be held with a welcoming speech from the queen and king, and some special guests to help celebrate this golden anniversary. Musical entertainment continues until the park closes at 11 p.m. headlined by country artist Tim Dugger.
Saturday begins with the annual Redfish Run through the streets of historic Apalachicola at 8 a.m., followed by the parade down Highway 98 at 10 a.m. The park opens at 10 a.m. with a $5 admission fee and children 12 and under free. Musical entertainment starts at noon.
The festival’s oyster eating and shucking events start at 1 p.m. If you are interested in competing in either event we urge you to be early to sign up as spots fill up fast. Blue crab races for the kids start at 1 p.m. and are held at the top of the each hour until 5 p.m. It is free for kids age 12 and under, and every kid wins a prize. It is an exciting race to watch with the blue crabs not always the most cooperative competitors.
Of course there is the carnival for kids of all ages in the southern area of the festival with many great rides promised this year; it should be fun for all. The golden anniversary celebration ends with a concert by country music star and Dancing with the Stars champion Kellie Pickler. Directly following the show will be an approximately 25-minute fireworks display held over the Apalachicola Bay.
Many of the festival’s food booths are local non-profit groups selling local fresh seafood, ranging from oysters on the half shell, fried oysters, fried scallops, gumbo, fried mullet, low country boil, crab fingers and other delicacies. These food booths are run by local churches, school organizations, and other community non-profit groups that do not pay anything to be in the park. Nor does the festival receive any proceeds from them.
There will also be many other non-profit groups in the park doing other things. There will also be other fair food in the park on food row, promising a variety for all those who visit the festival. The arts and crafts area is full again this year, with new and additional local vendors; surely there is something for everyone to enjoy. There will also be a history of the festival exhibit where the photo contest is normally held so patrons can see how this festival was created and photos of the past. It is really a fun thing to see how it started and what it has become.
So this year as the festival celebrates its 50th anniversary, and is the oldest maritime event in Florida, remember this festival was born by volunteers from the community wanting to celebrate local heritage and bring in much-needed economy to the area during the offseason. Still to this day it does what it was originally meant to do.
The current board of directors of the Florida Seafood Festival would like to thank all the community members who have served as volunteers as former directors. For your perseverance and drive to keep this festival alive for 50 years, we thank you. We would also like to thank the community of Franklin County for many of you participate in the parade, food booths, nonprofit booths and arts and crafts. One of the reasons this festival has survived for 50 years is the community it is held in.
Finally, I would like to thank the current volunteer board of directors. Thank you for all the time you give up making this festival grow and be a success. I am very blessed to be in my 10th year on the board and have had the privilege to work alongside some of the most dedicated volunteers in the area. I encourage all to thank the directors when they see them. They do not get to enjoy the festival like everyone else; they are busy making sure that everyone attends has a great time, never asking for anything more than a smile from a happy patron.
The volunteer board of directors of the Florida Seafood Festival invite any and all to the 50th anniversary of the state’s oldest maritime event the Florida Seafood Festival Nov. 1 and 2 in Battery Park Apalachicola. A celebration fit for a king (King Retsyo that is)
John Solomon is the president of the Florida Seafood Festival board of directors 2013.