by Keith Loria
“It’s a festival that really gives back to the community,” said Michele DiBella, of the Milford Oyster Festival, which will be held, rain or shine, on Saturday, Aug. 19, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
DiBella is spokesperson and part of the 22-person committee for the 43rd Milford Oyster Festival, which promises to be one of its best ever, organizers say, with up to 50,000 people expected to take part. “We’re all volunteers and anyone who sells food for profit has to team up with a town charity and give a percentage of profits back to that charity.”
The Oyster Festival offers a wide range of activities, from rides for the children to oyster eating and shucking contests for the adults.
“We sell about 35,000 oysters and have a tent set up behind the library,” DiBella said. “We get oysters and clams from members of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.” Since this interview the total has been estimated to be 41,000 oysters, according to the festival’s website.
This year, numerous varieties of oysters will be sold — both salty and sweet, grown from Maine to Virginia — representing some of the most prominent oyster growers on the East Coast.
“Many of the growers will be at the festival with their oysters so you can ask them how they do it and why their oysters are the best,” DiBella said.
Shucking is considered something of a sport to many, and champion shuckers come from all over the country to take part in the festival.
Things actually kick off on Friday from 6 to 10 p.m., with Oyster Eve at Lisman Landing Harbor Stage, where a $5 cover gives people a taste of the main festival, with oysters and food trucks available. A Rolling Stones cover band called Classic Stones Live will play the event.
Then on Saturday, the festival starts in the morning and promises to be fun-filled throughout the day. The arts and crafts tables are a big hit, as are “Big Toys” for the teen crowd, which features things like BMX stunts and arcade games.
“There’s an area on the Green called Main Street USA, which is an arts and civic group area so businesses can promote their products, and local vendors and services can meet the public,” DiBella said. “We also have a civic group exhibition for anyone who wants to conduct fundraising activities for their organizations.”
There’s also plenty of free entertainment scheduled throughout the day. The southern rock band Blackberry Smoke will headline, with the Artimus Pyle Band performing as well, at the Fowler Field main stage. Pyle, of course, is known for his years with Lynyrd Skynyrd, helping to define the legendary band’s sound.
“A lot of people in our area might not know Blackberry Smoke, but I think they are going to be pleasantly surprised at who they are,” DiBella said. “Many people know Artimus and will be coming out to see him, so the music is a big draw.”
Last year, the festival started offering craft beer, and its popularity convinced the committee that it had to return in 2017. The Craft Beer Garden will serve nine types of craft beer from Two Roads, Black Hog Brewing Company and Harpoon.
“We sold out completely last year and it was a huge draw,” DiBella said. “We also have wine available.”
In addition to rides and activities for the little ones, there’s also a children’s stage that will have performances. There’s also a schooner that will transport families around the harbor. The water will also be home to canoe and kayak races, which start at 8:30 a.m.
“People get dressed up in crazy costumes for the race and it’s a lot of fun,” DiBella said. “For people who like to come early, it’s a great way to start the day.”
A big hit of every festival is the Classic Car Show, which features hotrods and motorcycles, which line up at the start of the festival on River Street. An award ceremony is held honoring the best cars at the conclusion of the day.
No dogs, coolers or hard alcohol are allowed at the festival, and public transportation is recommended. Shuttle buses will be available at Jonathan Law High School and Connecticut Post Mall. Admission is free to the festival. For more information, visit milfordoysterfestival.com and check Sound of Music for lineup of bands.