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). The dates in 2014 are May 2-4 (with Shrimp Festival parade kicking things off Thursday, May 1 at 6 pm downtown). Also see more about the 2014 musical lineup at riverfront stage (including headliner Edwin McCain May 3, 2014).
Holding this event for 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 to celebrate the traditional blessing of the shrimp fleet.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ISLE OF EIGHT FLAGS SHRIMP FESTIVAL
A “Miss Shrimp Festival” is crowned each year and the contestants ride in a boat along the parade route, waving to the crowds. The Shrimp Festival Parade kicks off the annual event (held the Thursday evening preceding the first weekend of May).
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.)
Folks 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 over 300 juried artists and craftsmen. 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 shrimp cooked a variety of ways and other festival favorites. The Kid’s Fun Zone is also a magnet for families, along with the festival ambiance of roaming pirates and other child-oriented activities. Plus, there’s the free live music concerts at the riverfront stage.
Here’s how seasoned Shrimp Fest celebrants (many of the Fernandina folk) approach this fun, festive weekend on Amelia Island:
There are three phases of visiting the Shrimp Festival each year to experience everything.
Phase one — the Shrimp Festival Parade; phase two — the Friday night fireworks; phase three – the weekend festivities (browsing the wonderful art booths, the Kids 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).
FINE ARTS & CRAFTS, ANTIQUE VENDORS
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 crafts, and screens potential participants.
Many would say that the artwork is the most outstanding part of the festival. But the atmosphere is festive and fun for kids, too, and enjoyable for those who aren’t art collectors, as long as you don’t mind crowds. But the crowds are generally well behaved, since alcohol is not served in streets of Fernandina, the primary festival area. Be mindful of the open container law – no alcoholic beverages outdoors in the festival streets. You must go into a bar or restaurant that has a liquor license to get a cocktail, beer or wine, and you must stay in the establishment to drink it.
SHRIMP FEST PARADE IS A RITUAL, 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 local folk, 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 come downtown and line both Ash Street and Centre Street, lawn chairs in tow, many arriving very early to scope out their spot along the parade route. The old timers are present, the middle-aged, young adults, teenagers and little ones – five generations of citizens gravitate to the heart of Fernandina’s 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 ON AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA
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 — fried seafood plates, low country boil, shrimp pie, 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 organization, so they are fundraising. There are no commercial food vendors. You can find shrimp cooked many ways — grilled shrimp, cajun shrimp, garlic shrimp, popcorn shrimp, shrimp salad, shrimp twisters, boiled shrimp, shrimp quesadillas, and more.
As far as the weather during Shrimp Fest, the norm is hot. The weather does dictate the crowds. If it’s fair weather, expect the masses to invade the town, along with the pirates. It’s been sweltering and humid at times, but occasionally cold. (The odds are, however, that you’ll need some sun screen and a cold fresh-squeezed lemonade from the Fernandina Beach cheerleaders booth to quench your thirst.)
IT’S THE PIRATE’S LIFE FOR ME IN FERNANDINA
This is the ideal time to dress like a pirate and wander the town. If you’d rather not put on a costume, enjoy the other pirates mulling about. Pirates are also a feature of the parade, and some hand out pirate trinkets — bead necklaces in shades of shimmering gold, purple, and green.
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).
A visit to Fernandina for Isle of 8 Flags Shrimp Festival will allow you to taste the flavor of this town, especially if you make it to the parade. If you’re more interested in the artwork and will only visit Fernandina for one day, realize the arts, crafts, and antiques show is only on Saturday and Sunday. (Sunday morning is usually less crowded for browsing the fine arts and crafts booths.)
Not all locals, however, go to the Shrimp Fest as some residents don’t like the invasion (the crowds and traffic). These folks see it as a good time to get away from Amelia for the weekend. Others look forward to Shrimp Festival as the ultimate party weekend. In fact, other than the Florida-Georgia college football game weekend in the fall, there are probably more house parties going on around Amelia Island during Shrimp Fest, than any other time of the year. Parties, food, with drinks flowing – there’s a festive atmosphere as reliable as the tides — during Shrimp Festival weekend each year on Amelia Island.
Out-of-towners can follow the posted signs, as you come onto the island, and be directed to the main festival parking lots ($10 fee with shuttle bus to the downtown festival area.)
For further info, visit the official festival web site at www.ShrimpFestival.com.
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