On Saturday, October 25, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. will host OysterFest, a celebration of the Chesapeake’s oyster. The event features live music on two stages, boat rides, retriever demonstrations, oysters and other local fare, an oyster stew competition and cooking demonstrations, along with children’s activities, oyster demonstrations, harvesting displays and Chesapeake-related documentary screenings.
This year, the Roadhouse Clams perform live from the Tolchester Beach Bandstand, with a music style described as the “crossroads where Nashville meets Key West.” Along Fogg’s Cove, the Annapolis-based band Swamp Donkey performs “newgrass (not bluegrass) with a twist of rock.”
In addition to the museum’s floating fleet of historic vessels, several boats from the Talbot County Watermen’s Association will be dockside to share the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster dredging, hand tonging, patent tonging and oyster diving traditions. Chesapeake watermen will also be offering oyster tonging demonstrations along the museum’s waterfront.
TCWA volunteers will serve freshly caught and shucked Chesapeake Bay oysters steamed or raw on the half shell. Aquaculture raw oysters, oyster fritters and fried oyster sandwiches will also be available. For those who prefer to celebrate oysters rather than eat them, pit beef, hot dogs and hamburgers, along with cold beer, warm apple cider and more will be offered. Back by popular demand is Fordham Brewing Company’s Rosie Parks Oyster Stout, made in honor of the 1955 skipjack Rosie Parks, which was relaunched after a three-year restoration at last year’s OysterFest.
Local restaurants will perform cooking demonstrations of signature oyster dishes throughout the day, and an oyster slurping contest will be offered each hour from 1-3 pm. with a prize for the winner. Beginning at 11 a.m. along the museum’s Fogg’s Cove, festival-goers can vote for their favorite oyster stew in a competition among local restaurants and chefs. Participation is limited to the first 500 on a first-come, first-served basis, with a commemorative OysterFest mug and the tastings offered for a $6 fee. The blind taste test awards bragging rights to the chef with the most votes, with the People’s Choice winner announced at 1 p.m.
Throughout the event, families can take a river cruise aboard Winnie Estelle, play an oversized oyster puzzle game, explore an oyster nursery, watch net-making and knot-tying demonstrations, or participate in a scavenger hunt or face painting. Children can also build their own take-home boat for a $3 fee. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue club will also present retriever demonstrations on CBMM’s Navy Point.
Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Oyster Recovery Partnership and The Nature Conservancy will be on-hand to discuss efforts to clean and preserve the Chesapeake Bay. Phillips Wharf Environmental Center’s Fishmobile will offer the opportunity to see live sturgeon, diamondback terrapins, horseshoe crabs and other native creatures.
The event is generously sponsored by Maryland Public Television, with two MPT documentaries screened in the Van Lennep Auditorium during the event.
Festival-goers can explore CBMM’s exhibits, including Oystering on the Chesapeake and Waterman’s Wharf, where visitors can try tonging or nippering for oysters. Displayed dockside will be several boats historically used in the oystering industry, including CBMM’s 1889 log-bottomed bugeye and registered National Historic Landmark Edna E. Lockwood, the 1955 skipjack Rosie Parks and the 1920 buy boat Winnie Estelle, among other Chesapeake Bay buy boats visiting for the festival.
Admission to OysterFest is free for CBMM members and children ages five and under; otherwise it’s $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $6 for children between the ages of six and 17. Food and boat rides are an additional cost. For safety reasons, festival-goer’s dogs need to be kept home during museum festivals, as leashed dogs are now only permitted on campus during regular operating hours. For more information about OysterFest, visit www.cbmm.org/oysterfest or call 410-745-2916.