Updated 8:21 pm, Tuesday, August 8, 2017
MILFORD >> It’s not likely anyone at the annual Milford Oyster Festival this year will find themselves thinking, “Aww, shucks, they’re out of oysters again.”
After running out at recent past festivals, organizers have ordered a record number for this year’s event – 41,000 oysters in 21 varieties from eight states on the East Coast.
The hope is the oysters won’t run out in the afternoon as they have in other years, including last year when organizers had what still seemed a high number: 35,000 oysters in 19 varieties, said publicity chairwoman Michele DiBella. She said it’s the largest variety of oysters at any festival in the United States.
They will be joined by 6,000 clams.
This year’s 43rd annual festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 19, with “Oyster Eve” events from 6 to 10 p.m. the night before at Lisman Landing.
The festival that typically attracts some 50,000 people to the city in one day – with proceeds benefitting many causes – is the number-one food festival in Connecticut, according to a state-by-state ranking in National Geographic’s Traveler’s Magazine.
“There’s so much for everyone” at the festival, DiBella said. “For 43 years, it’s been an annual tradition.”
And in keeping with tradition, the event will include live music by name bands, carnival rides, entertainment, food galore and more. There is also a craft beer tent.
But it all seems to come back to the oysters – and the shucking, or opening, of them.
There are three oyster-shucking contests – at 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m., as well as a couple of renowned shucking champions. Shucking is the skill of opening the oyster.
A special guest shucker this year will be Honor Allen, 22, the 2016 U.S. National Oyster Shucking Champion.
“Having Honor Allen and several other former shucking champions at the Festival confirms why it has become a nationally recognized Oyster Festival,” said Ila Tokarz, Oyster Festival president.
According to a festival press release, Allen was raised in Panama City and got his start shucking oysters as a 12-year-old watching employees at Hunt’s Oyster Bar in Panama City.
Since age 18, Allen has worked at Hunt’s, where he shucks about 1,000 oysters a shift, the release states.
Allen had a composite score of 2:58.96 at the U.S. Championship, earning him a spot at the International Oyster Opening Championship in Galway, Ireland, in September.
Allen believes there is a lot of camaraderie in oyster shucking, according to the press release. William Chopper Young, the 2008 national champion and regular shucker at Milford’s Oyster Festival, offered Allen the oyster knife he used to win the championship, according to the press release. Allen is going to use that knife in the international championship.
This year’s headline band is Blackberry Smoke, a Southern rock ‘n’ roll band from Atlanta. Opening for them is The Artimus Pyle Band, and popular local band DizzyFish, led by Eric Herbst of Milford, which combines the energy of classic rock and the passion of the blues.
The music is on the Fowler Field main stage behind Milford Library, where many activities are situated.
For more information, visit milfordoysterfestival.com.