Amelia Island’s Shrimp Festival
In Fernandina Beach, Florida, the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is an annual tradition, always held the first weekend in May. This huge festival attracts over 100,000 people during the weekend (browse photo gallery below).
2015 ISLE OF 8 FLAGS SHRIMP FESTIVAL: The dates in 2015 are May 1-3 (with Shrimp Festival parade kicking things off Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 6 pm in downtown Fernandina). The entertainment this year includes The Edgar Winter Band performing Saturday, May 2nd at 4:30 pm on the riverfront stage. Sunday’s featured band is the popular “Party Band of the South,” the “Swingin’ Medallions” beginning at 2:30 pm, May 3, 2015.
Holding this event for more than half a century, Fernandina Beach is the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in the United States. The Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival was first held in 1963 featuring shrimp boat races and a blessing of the shrimp fleet.
Highlights of Shrimp Festival
There’s a festive atmosphere as reliable as the tides — during Shrimp Festival weekend each year on Amelia Island. The Shrimp Festival Parade kicks off the annual event (this is the biggest parade of the year, read more further below about this hometown “parade of pride.”) “Miss Shrimp Festival” is crowned each year and the contestants ride in a boat along the parade route. Of course, Fernandina’s Pirates sail along Centre in their ship and fire the cannon. Beaded pirate necklaces in shades of shimmering gold, purple, and green, along with candy are traditionally handed out to kids along the parade route. It’s a big parade that lasts about an hour and a half, with the pirate ship “grand finale” (the last float ending the parade).
Friday evening during the festival weekend, the riverfront food vendors and KIDS FUN ZONE open at 6 pm, followed by the opening ceremony of the Shrimp Festival at 6:30 pm and the Miss Shrimp Festival Scholarship Pageant at 7 pm. The grand finale of the festival’s opening night is the “Pirate Invasion” by ship at the riverfront at 9:30 pm, followed by a wonderful fireworks display at 9:45 pm. (The food courts are open Friday evening, along with the KIDS FUN ZONE until around 10:30 pm.)
SHRIMP FESTIVAL PHOTO GALLERY
(Hover over photo below to see arrows appear, browse through gallery.)
People are attracted to Fernandina’s Shrimp Festival for various reasons. Known as one of the top fine art shows in the southeast, artists and art lovers come to browse the works. Realize this is a great art festival featuring close to 400 juried artists in 2015. According to the Island Art Association, the Shrimp Festival’s fully juried arts and crafts exhibit “has been consistently recognized as one of the best art events in North America by Sunshine Artist Magazine.” (Also visit the Amelia Island Art Association’s web site at www.islandart.org.)
Others come for the food. Naturally, there’s shrimp cooked a variety of ways, along with other festival food favorites, plus the popular free live music concerts at the riverfront stage downtown. The KIDS FUN ZONE is also a magnet for families, along with the festival ambiance of roaming pirates and other child-oriented activities. Note that new in 2015 is a change of venue for the KIDS FUN ZONE which is being expanded. The KIDS FUN ZONE will be located at Central Park (Atlantic Avenue & 11th Street), with the usual rides, booths plus more including food vendors and pirates.
Here’s how seasoned Shrimp Fest celebrants approach this weekend on Amelia Island:
Three Phases of Visiting Shrimp Festival to Experience Everything
Phase 1 — the Shrimp Festival Parade; Phase 2 — the Friday night fireworks; Phase 3 — the weekend festivities (browsing the wonderful art booths, the Kids Fun Zone, enjoying the live entertainment at the riverfront stage, and getting a bite to eat).
The main festival hours are: Friday 6 pm to 10:30 pm — food, riverfront activities, Kid’s Fun Zone, and fireworks. Saturday 9 am to 6 pm — art, crafts, antiques show and everything else (with food booths staying open until 7 pm), and on Sunday 10 am until 5 pm (everything).
Art & Antiques
The Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival offers a diverse array of fine arts and crafts artisans. You’ll find water color and oil paintings, photography, custom jewelry, pottery, wood, glass and copper sculptures, handcrafted vases and lots more. The local Island Art Association handles the fine arts, and screens potential participants.
Shrimp Festival Parade, A “Parade of Pride”
For locals, attending the Shrimp Festival parade is an annual ritual here in Fernandina Beach. The parade is a real glimpse of small-town Americana and a symbol of small-town community pride, with just about every organization in town participating with a float or group marching.
For area residents, there’s a likelihood that at least one family member is actually in the parade, or there lining the historic district streets, cheering, clapping, grinning. People go downtown and line both Ash Street and Centre Street, some bring beach chairs, many arrive very early to scope out their spot along the parade route. Seniors, the middle-aged, young adults, teenagers and tots – five generations of Nassau County citizens gravitate to the heart of Fernandina Beach, the downtown historic district. At no other time of the year is the warmth of this town on display more, than at the annual Shrimp Festival parade.
MORE ABOUT SHRIMP FEST WEEKEND ACTIVITIES
Mingle with the Shrimp Festival crowds along Centre Street in historic Fernandina Beach (and the side streets from 8th to Front Street), browse hundreds of art booths (admire the work of many talents artists), and hear some great live bands at the riverfront stage.
The food vendor booths offer a wide selection including fried seafood plates, low country boil, shrimp gumbo, shrimp pie, grilled shrimp, Cajun shrimp, garlic shrimp, popcorn shrimp, shrimp salad, shrimp twisters, boiled shrimp, and shrimp quesadillas. Plus Italian sausage and lots of fair-type food, including sugar-powdered funnel cakes, and more. Remember you’re eating for a good cause, since all food booths are run by a local, Nassau County, Florida non-profit. This is the biggest fundraising event of the year for many local organizations.
IT’s THE PIRATE’s LIFE FOR ME IN FERNANDINA
This is the ideal time to dress like a pirate and wander the town. Rather not put on a costume? Then just enjoy the other pirates mulling about.
Note that during the day on Friday, Fernandina’s downtown merchants in the historic district traditionally hold their annual sidewalk sale, so it’s a good time for browsing along Centre Street (10:00 am – 5:00 pm).
For those more interested in the artwork (who will only visit Fernandina for one day), realize the arts, crafts, and antiques show is only on Saturday and Sunday. First thing Sunday morning is usually the least crowded time for browsing the fine arts and crafts booths.
Shrimp Festival Parking
Out-of-towners can follow the posted signs, when arriving on Amelia Island, to be directed to the main festival parking lots ($10 park and ride shuttle bus to the downtown festival area.) Admittance to the Festival itself is free, including the live concerts at the riverfront.
For further information, festival area map, detailed entertainment schedule and more, visit the official Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival website at www.ShrimpFestival.com.
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