If the size of the oyster eaters’ appetites are an accurate gauge, this year’s crowd at the 50th annual Florida Seafood Festival was a bellyful for the record books.
A late thunderstorm Friday night, followed by an overcast morning, gave way to crisp, sunny weather, ideal for taking in a podium full of competitors guzzling mollusks.
Gerald “G” Goodman, of Southport, ate 27 dozen oysters to win the oyster eating contest, just 72 oysters short of the record.
“The rules say you have to use a fork to get them out the cup. If he wants to swallow ‘em, he can swallow ‘em. That’s up to him,” said Miuchael Shuler, who oversaw the completion.
Among females, Apalachicola’s Dana Taylor, pulled a stunning upset of five-time champion Angie Harnage, who downed only seven dozen and six oysters, about half of her personal best. Taylor consumed an impressive 18 dozen.
Reigning over the golden anniversary of the Florida Seafood Festival were two musicians - a young trombone-playing pixie and a young-at-heart bass-playing seafood dealer.
Franklin County High School junior Morgan Martin, 16, has long played first trombone in the Seahawk band, and now leads the musicians as drum major. Her King Retsyo, Vance Millender, a seafood dealer with deep ties to the industry, plays tenor sax and bass guitar for the rock band Locomotive.
Together, they sound just the right notes - that the seafood industry that is Franklin County’s heritage and lifeblood shall long endure. “It will go as far as we can take it,” said Martin, daughter of Teresa Ann Martin of Apalachicola and Henry Martin of Destin
Millender is a prime example of the type of people Martin is talking about, a Carrabelle native, grandson to Braxton Millender, who started the business in 1942 and then handed it down to his son Farris Millender.
After Martin and Millender arrived by shrimp boat, State Sen. Bill Montford and Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson welcomed the guests. John Solomon, president of the board of directors, presented a plaque to Billy Spikes, who directed the first festival in 1963.
Now in the real estate business in Orlando, Spikes back then was a young marketing manager for Florida Power, and worked closely with city business interest to create an attraction for visitors in the off-season. Ted Mosteller, also retired from Florida Power, stepped down this year after more than four decades on the volunteer board.
Solomon said despite a rainstorm that shaved the last couple hours off Friday’s events, this weekend’s crowd was in excess of 31,000, fueled by a combination of it being the golden anniversary, the appearance of county music and Dancing with the Stars champion Kellie Pickler Saturday night, and the weather.
He said gate receipts were at least $57,000, with a record number of t-shirt sales.
After that it was time for another tradition, this time a win in the oyster shucking contest by Scotty O’Lear, an 11-time state champion and a five-time national champion.
The crowd continued to build all afternoon, anticipating the arrival of Pickler for the night’s featured entertainment.
Pickler came on stage in heels, but after her opening number, “Little House,” she sat down on the edge of the stage and took them off, and went barefoot the rest of the evening.
She delighted the crowd with such songs as “Beautiful,” “Makin Me Fall,” “Tough,” “Stop Cheatin’,” “Where’s Tammy,” and “”Things,” before launching into her current hit, “Someone Somewhere.”
She rounded off her evening with “Ring For Sale,” “White Lightning,” “My Angel,” “Wanna Be Married,” “Gypsy,” “Didn’t You Know,” “Unlock That Honky Tonk,” “I Wonder” and “Best Days.” For her encore she came out in red high heels and sang the song of the same name.