When up to 60,000 people descend on a Virginia waterfront town of just 500 residents, it must be the Urbanna Oyster Festival.
“It might have been the prettiest Oyster Festival weather ever,” said Urbanna native Dave Marshall, who arrived, as he always does, by boat.
The festival hosts the Virginia State Oyster Shucking Championship, a competition won by newcomer Ian Johnson in a big shakeup. Johnson will go on to compete in the 2020 National Championship at the U.S. Festival in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, and that winner goes on to the world championship in Galway, Ireland. He had the honor of sharing the stage with Urbanna’s two longtime champion shuckers, sisters Debra Pratt and Clementine Macon Boyd.
Another beloved tradition of the festival is the Oyster Parade featuring the Oyster Festival Queen and her younger counterpart, Little Miss Spat, as well as their courts. For these young ladies, it’s as much about community service as beauty: according to festival organizers, “Each Queen contestant must volunteer a minimum of 25 hours benefiting Middlesex County. This year’s Queen and Spat contestants have volunteered well over the required time, completing over 725 hours and donating over $16,000 for the betterment of this community.”
Three maritime highlights of this year’s festival were the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s newly restored nine-log bugeye, Edna E. Lockwood, the skipjack Claud W. Somers from the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum, and the buyboat Mildred Belle from the Living Classrooms Foundation.
And of course visitors got their fill of oysters. Offerings from multiple wild harvest grounds and aquaculture operations made for a range of flavors from those varied terroirs. Local wineries and craft breweries provided the liquids with which to wash them down.
As Dave Marshall tells Bay Bulletin, “The oysters were really good this year. The flavor was outstanding, especially complemented by ham biscuits. And the weather made the crowd on the waterfront especially active, with all sorts of boats, from deadrises to center consoles and sportfishermen. The hay wagons bringing people into town from parking at Rosegill Plantation were always full.”
Click through the photos below for a taste of the Urbanna festival:
The Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation, which puts the festival on each year, is a non-profit organization promoting educational and civic events throughout the year. One major element is the Marine Science Legacy Program, designed to bring understanding of Chesapeake Bay ecology, history, heritage, and future to local students and Festival attendees.
Just before the festival begins, Oyster Festival Education Day brings local students together with instructors from non-profit, government, and private organizations for a range of field and lab studies in Chesapeake ecology and maritime history.
After all, these young people will be the leaders making sure that future Urbanna Oyster Festivals are just as joyful as this one.
-John Page Williams