Carrabelle’s annual Riverfront Festival last weekend wasn’t flaky and it wasn’t fakey.
No, it was fishy and it was fun, and it showed what a genuine down-home event is all about.
“We’re friendly folks over here, unpretentious and welcoming, and that’s what the festival represents,” said Steve Allen, one of the chief organizers of an event carried out by Carrabelle CARES and the City of Carrabelle.
Now in its 24th year, the festival Friday evening and all day Saturday was the picture of relaxed order and careful planning, as more than 80 vendors and exhibitors, hundreds of participants and thousands of visitors collaborated to make it a success.
“I think we're putting together a very unique, high-quality festival for a little town,” said Allen. “I’m so happy of the way things are going with partnerships.”
Chief among those collaborations was the new home-style food court known as Gullet's Cove, to fit into the festival’s theme of “Pirates of the Carrabellean -The Treasure of Gullet's Cove.” Sponsored by Sea Crest Realty and Sandy Beach Properties, the food court featured mullet dinners, a low country boil, hamburgers and hot dogs, blooming onions, and plenty of fresh baked goods, all prepared by non-profit participants who included the Christian Bowhunters, the Carrabelle and Eastpoint Churches of God, the Carrabelle UMC’s God's Ministry to the Needy, the Carrabelle Food Pantry and a new group raising funds for nutrition.
The food court accented the many commercial venders who dotted Marine Street.
Because the tradition of having a Sunday component to the festival has faded for lack of attendance, Friday night has grown steadily and this year was no exception.
Dressed as a pirate, downtown businessman Bo May rode in on his horse Kharmalita and announced the pirates were coming. The 1877 schooner Governor Stone, newly restored, and venturing in from Fort Walton Beach, then came towards shore, loaded with a crew of pirates, and fired a fusillade of three volleys from across the Carrabelle River.
After docking, the pirate crew came to the main stage and replaced the city flag with the festival’s pirate flag. Mayor Curley Messer then exchanged the key to the city for a treasure trove full of loot presented by the festival’s featured entertainers, Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers, from Nashville.
“This was the second time for a Friday,” said Allen. “The first time we did Friday was better than any Sunday we’ve ever done. We want to build a tradition of some event Friday night.”
A vendor reception at Harry’s Bar later on Friday night was hosted by the Carrabelle Artists Association.
Saturday proved to be a sunny and bustling day for the festival, featuring golf carts shuttling visitors all along the festival route. A bungee cord jumping ride greeted visitors from downtown, while at the other end of the festival, the main stage was busy with entertainment.
“We always try to make available a ride or two and some free activities,” said Allen, boasting about the Billy Bones Pirate Academy for children that was overseen by the Mystic Krewe of Salty Barkers and the county library.
Exhibits featured everything from wooden boat building by Roger Pinholster and friends from the Big Bend Maritime Center, to a heritage tent that had Rodney Reeves demonstrating antique tools, Cal Allen showing off bow and arrow making, and Fran Harless displaying rugmaking. At the Carr’s Hill performance stage Frank Lindamood showed off early 20th century banjo music, Sammy Tedder played the bamboo flute and Dylan "Ragpicker Allen" Franklin performed on cigar box guitars and other instruments made from everyday things.
An antique car show drew more than 300 votes from visitors, and emerging triumphant were Tallahassee’s Jack Rowe, with a ’49 GMC pick-up. In second was Carrabelle’s Craig Shearer, with a ’56 Chevy Bel Air four-door hardtop, and in third was Tallahassee’s Cliff Millender, with a 2002 Ferrari Spyder.
Following the traditional Procession of the Species, it was time for the Pet Parade, emceed by musician Debi Jordan, with all proceeds going to the Franklin County Humane Society.
About two dozen entrants showed off their favorite pets and awards were presented to each one. These included ribbons, to Roberta Clay’s Cass for Best Dressed Bikini; Sid McOmie’s Chimi for Best Haircut; Carolyn and Lee Swan’s Trojan for Most Protective; Chad and Jenya Peterson’s Mocha for Best Educated, as it was English/Russian bilingual; Denise Forehand’s Buster for Most Mexican; Cole Tucker’s Snoopy, a ventriloquist’s puppet, for Best Behaved; Katherine Simmons’ Josie for Most Intellectual; Dennis Swanson’s Gator and Caimon for Best Whiskers; Lane and Mason Bennett’s Charlie for Smartest; Matthew Turner’s Rocky for Best Winter Coat; Wanda Johnson’s Sweet Pea for Most Unique Ears; Michael and Cathy Bailey’s Charli Brown for Miss Congeniality; Frances and Leon Weisener’s Zac for Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, and Sophie for Best Party Girl; Lynn Cooper’s Sadie for Most Confident and Sassy; Keith Grumbly’s Merlin for Best Beard; Randy and Teresa Hamlin’s Sir George for Oldest Pet, an 18-year-old Amazon Parrot; Amy Wright’s Dixie for Best Freckles; the humane society’s Cramer for Most Patient, as he is waiting on a forever home; Charlie Winchester’s corn snake Sunset for Best Kisser.
Following that, Joan Matey emceed the crown jewel of the festival, the Fishy Fashion Show, that she and fellow artist Jan Neshat founded and have refined over the years. The event features outfits all made from detritus that spoils the beaches and waters of Franklin County, making for a powerful message of how to handle trash before it becomes a problem.
With Matey, dressed in her trademark stovepipe sponge hat, reciting a detailed, witty script, the participants strutted their stuff before an appreciative audience. They included Nicole Martin as Estuary Fairy; Sid McOmie as Clamity Jane; Jim Smith as Beach Bandito; Jeff McOmie as Fryer Fish; Rodney Reeves as Forgotten Coast Legionnaire; Leah Wren as Sponge Bonnet Sue; Heidi Zurawka as Duchess of Dog Island; Susan David as Red Tide She-Devil; Tammy and Bill Owen as Bayside Bride and Gulf Coast Groom; Nona Elder as Valkerie Warrior of the Waves; Steve Allen as Samurai Warrior; and Carol Zurawka as the Crabbin’ Belle.
Following a ventriloquism performance by Cole Tucker, Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers performed, and then later that night, were the featured musicians at Bo May’s Rio Carrabelle, a popular downtown night spot. “They were fantastic,” said Steve Allen. “It was the best band I’ve heard in two decades.”
He said work has already begun for next year, with thoughts of starting the festival later on Saturday and running it into the evening. Allen said organizers are also contemplating tying in a boat or RV show with the festival. It takes the commitment of community and the patience to work through the details and get it perfected and fine-tuned like we’re doing.”