Fernandina’s Biggest Festival Is May 5-7, 2023. (Parade Is Thursday, May 4th).
Known as “birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in America,” Fernandina’s popular Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival began in 1964 to celebrate the blessing of the shrimp fleet. It also featured shrimp boat races and formerly was called the “Shrimp Boat Festival.”
Shrimp Festival Parade — Thurs., May 4, 2023
Officially kicking off the Festival on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. downtown, the Shrimp Festival parade date is May 4, 2023, rain or shine. In 2023, the parade theme is “Shrimp Gone Wild.” Wonder what wild shrimp we’ll see this year when the parade floats travel along the downtown streets. (Here’s a look back at a few past parade floats from various years).
Each year, community pride spills out along the parade route from the participants and the thousands of spectators who line both Centre Street and Ash Street to watch — clapping, smiling, and waving.
“Home Of The Pirates”
Fernandina is also known as “the home of the pirates.” Besides “Peg Leg Pete” stationed near the riverfront, the local schools’ sports teams are known as the Pirates. Fernandina’s high school has its award-winning “Mighty Marching Pirates Band,” one of the performers during the Shrimp Festival parade.
Playing a prominent role are the community’s goodwill ambassadors, members of the Fernandina Pirates Club. Always a highlight of the Shrimp Festival parade, the pirates aboard ships, ride along the parade route and fire the cannon (“Amelia’s Revenge” is pictured below).
Special Thursday Night “Sounds On Centre”
Right after the Shrimp Festival Parade concludes, stick around for the free “Sounds on Centre” concert happening Thursday evening, May 4, 2023, featuring “Scallywags.”
Friday Night Fireworks — May 5, 2023
Shrimp Festival fireworks will light up the riverfront sky on Friday night, another crowd pleaser during Fernandina’s famous Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. This year, the fireworks display is 9:15 p.m. on May 5, 2023.
During the multi-day event, over 100,000 people will visit Fernandina’s downtown historic district to enjoy the live musical performances — free concerts — plus all the other Shrimp Festival attractions summarized below.
Riverfront Concert Highlights
For those who are fans of “The Voice” television show, a top finalist from the 2021 season, Paris Winningham, will perform on Fernandina’s riverfront stage Friday evening, May 5th at 7:30 p.m. By way of background, Winningham is from northeast Florida (Jacksonville), and is a Navy veteran.
Saturday evening, May 6th at 5 p.m., also out of Jacksonville, Southern rock band, “The Curt Towne Band,” is performing at Shrimp Fest. They’ve opened in past for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, The Outlaws, Molley Hatchet, .38 Special and others.
Brought back year after year due to popular demand, a favorite is the “Party Band of the South,” the Swingin’ Medallions. They traditionally play Sunday afternoon and close out the Shrimp Festival. This year on May 7, 2023 the Swingin’ Medallions are scheduled to perform two sets, the first at 2 p.m. and second at 3:45 pm. on Sunday.
BROWSING BONANZA! Fine Arts & Crafts Show Plus Vintage Vendors & Antiques
A favorite pastime of many folks attending the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is wandering through a huge variety of booths offering fine arts & crafts plus vintage/antiques vendors. If visitors were to browse all the booths (over 300) that line Centre Street plus side streets, it could take several hours.
While one never knows what will be seen during the Shrimp Fest parade with each year’s changing theme and floats, ditto for the art show. (One example, this gigantic armadillo pictured below at a past festival). There are plenty of passionate artists and craftsmen and women who display unique creations at the Festival, showcasing a multitude of mediums.
This is a juried art show, a competition for prizes. The Amelia Island Art Association coordinates the Fine Arts & Crafts Show and vintage/antiques vendors.
Kids Fun Zone Behind Fernandina Library
Those with kids often spend time in the Kids Fun Zone located between N. 3rd and N. 4th Streets, behind the Fernandina library.
There’s a variety of concessions in the Kids Fun Zone, including slides, rides, rock climbing wall, games and activities. The Kids Fun Zone hours are Friday, May 5, 2023 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday hours on May 6, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Festival Food Booths
Many food booths, of course, have shrimp on the menu. Walking around the Festival, festival attendees will find shrimp prepared in various ways plus other festival favorites. Some popular choices include fried shrimp, shrimp boil, shrimp pie, and spicy pirate shrimp gumbo. The food booths open earlier on Friday at 3 p.m. (main festival hours 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.). Saturday, main Festival hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the riverfront area of food booths staying open another hour until 7 p.m. On Sunday, everything at Festival is has same hours, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The food booths are run by non-profits including schools, churches, clubs, and organizations such as the Amelia Island Museum of History. Besides shrimp, funnel cakes and fresh squeezed lemonade are other Festival favorites. The annual Shrimp Festival is an important fundraising event for local area non-profits.
Fernandina Beach Art Students Paint Shrimp-Themed Windows At Downtown Businesses
Those visiting downtown Fernandina the weekend before the Festival might see local art students busy at work painting downtown windows. For several years, talented kids from Fernandina Beach High School have used their skill to paint shrimp-themed artwork on the windows of retail shops and restaurants in celebration of the Festival. Approximately 40 businesses are participating this year. It’s another example of creativity and community spirit on display! Some of the student artwork is shown below (from a few years back), the windows painted at Twisted Sisters on Centre Street.
Pirates Punch, Palace Saloon’s Signature Cocktail
Certain things, when repeated over the years, become traditions. And for some local residents and visitors, it’s sipping a “Pirate’s Punch” during the Shrimp Festival. The Palace Saloon is known as the “oldest continuously-operated drinking establishment” in the state of Florida.
While the building itself dates to 1878, the saloon doors opened in 1903. Back then, this pub was known as the “ship captain’s bar.” The Palace Saloon’s 40-foot bar is a wonderful relic from the turn-of-the-century, surrounded by mosaic tile floors, embossed tin ceilings and murals.
Around Fernandina, besides the Palace Saloon, other local bars and restaurants also feature their own special entertainment schedules and menu items during the very busy Shrimp Fest weekend.
Is Alcohol Served At The Shrimp Festival?
For adults aged 21+, beer and “White Claw” beverages are available in the limited waterfront area of the Shrimp Festival grounds. Note that those who purchase alcohol in the riverfront area of festival are restricted to remain in the vicinity of marina and concert stage with adult beverages (many of the food booths are also located here).
Pirates Club — Half A Century of Community Service
Earlier this year, Fernandina Beach Mayor, Bradley Bean, presented the Fernandina Pirates Club with a city proclamation in recognition and celebration of their 50-year anniversary serving as community ambassadors. The mayor thanked club members and noted how the pirates have been an integral part of this community.
Recognizing Shrimp Festival Volunteer Committee
Imagine the hours of behind-the-scenes work required to pull off a multi-day event of this size. It takes some city resources plus a team of dedicated volunteers — the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival Committee — to coordinate logistics and so much more to successfully orchestrate this annual Festival. In recognition of volunteer efforts, another proclamation was presented at the April 18, 2023 city commission meeting. This one was to thank the Shrimp Festival Committee for helping to continue this long-running tradition, now celebrating its 58th year. Part of the proclamation stated:
“WHEREAS, the all-volunteer Shrimp Festival Committee partners with the City of Fernandina Beach, area businesses and approximately fifty local non-profit organizations to encourage community volunteerism while instilling a sense of pride through working together for the benefit of the Shrimp Festival; and”
“WHEREAS, the Fernandina Beach City Commission hereby extends its sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival Committee for its dedication in keeping the time-honored traditions and reminders of the shrimping industry alive, and for introducing visitors to the gracious ambiance of downtown Fernandina Beach’s historic district and the beauty of the Amelia River.”
According to city, the financial impact of the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival to Fernandina Beach, Nassau County and surrounding areas is reportedly more than $16 million, a figure noted in the April 18th proclamation.
This year, the presenting sponsor of the 2023 Shrimp Festival is Baptist Medical Center Nassau.