Fernandina’s Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is Amelia Island’s top event weekend of the year, attracting more visitors than any other time (always held the first weekend in May). There’s a festive atmosphere as reliable as the tides during this huge event that brings over 100,000 people to this barrier island at the Florida-Georgia border.
The Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival kicks off each year with the Pirate Parade on Thursday evening leading up to May’s first weekend, held at 6 pm in downtown Fernandina’s historic district. Fernandina’s pirates aboard their ship sail along the parade route with intermittent firing of the cannon. This is a big parade that lasts 1.5 to 2 hours, with the pirate ship appearing at the end. The traditional parade route heads west along Ash Street (from 8th Street) toward riverfront, then turns and heads east along historic Centre Street (back to Central Park). Beaded pirate necklaces and candy are traditionally handed out to kids along the parade route. In recent years, there’s been a concert right after the parade, a special “Sounds on Centre” performance.
- Friday 6 pm to 10 pm — Food vendors, Kids’ Zone (opens at 5 pm), opening ceremony 6 pm. “Miss Shrimp Festival Pageant” 6:30 pm. Pirates invade Fernandina Harbor at 9 pm followed by FIREWORKS at 9:15 pm. MUSIC — Fri., May 4, 2018: Flipturn (an indi-rock band from Fernandina) playing at 7:30 pm, second set 9:30 pm.
- Saturday 9 am to 6 pm — around 400 art, crafts and antiques booths cover eight downtown blocks, plus food vendors and live musical entertainment at riverfront stage. MUSIC — Sat., May 5, 2018: “Rock and Pop Masters” (4:30 to 6 pm), at riverfront stage featuring lots of memorable music hits from the past: Formerly of KANSAS, John Elefante (“Dust in the Wind”, “Carry On Wayward Son”); Randall Hall formerly of LYNRYD SKYNRYD (“You Got That Right”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Freebird”); and Jimmy Hall of Wet Willy and formerly Jeff Beck Group (“Keep On Smilin’”, “Weekend”).
- Sunday 10 am to 5 pm — Art, crafts and antiques booths, food vendors, live musical entertainment at riverfront. MUSIC — Sun., May 6, 2018: The Swingin’ Medallions, “The Party Band of the South” playing two sets, 2:30 pm, second at 4 pm.
Known as one of the top fine art shows in the southeast, art lovers come to browse the works. According to the Amelia 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. For those attending for the art show only, usually first thing Sunday morning is the least crowded time for browsing the fine arts booths.
A longtime tradition for more than half a century, Fernandina Beach is the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in America. First held in 1963 (originally called the “Shrimp Boat” Festival), the inaugural event began with shrimp boat races and a blessing of the shrimp fleet.
The festival’s food 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, and more. Plus Italian sausage and fair-type food including sugar-powdered funnel cakes. Eat for a good cause! All food booths are run by a local, Nassau County, Florida non-profit, fundraising.
“Parade of Pride”
For many locals, the Shrimp Festival parade is one of the must-do events anticipated each year in Fernandina. At no other time is the warmth of this town on better display, than during the Shrimp Festival parade. It’s a local ritual, symbolic of community pride. Seniors, the middle-aged, young adults, teenagers and tots – five generations of Nassau County citizens — gravitate to the heart of Fernandina, the downtown historic district, for this very special parade. Most residents are connected in some way to at least one group or organization participating in the parade with a float (or you’re marching in it). People go downtown and line both Ash Street and Centre Street. Some bring beach chairs and arrive early to scope out a top spot.
See the complete 2018 Shrimp Festival entertainment and activities schedule. Further info is available at the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival official website.
Out-of-towners can follow the posted signs, when arriving on Amelia Island, to be directed to the main festival parking lots (the Fernandina Beach High School parking ($10) has shuttle bus to the downtown festival area.) There’s NO ADMISSION FEE to enter and roam the Shrimp Festival, including free concerts at the riverfront stage. There are fees for rides and activities in KIDS ZONE. All Festival food, of course, has to be purchased.