This Weekend’s Seafood Festival Won’t Be Hampered by Gulf Oil Spill
By Bradley “Beej” Davis, Jr.
Locals joke that there are only two seasons in Pensacola: summer and not summer. Aside from falling temperatures and fading tans, the telltale signs that “not summer” is upon us are the downtown festivals which bring thousands of locals and visitors to experience one of Pensacola’s most endearing qualities.
This weekend’s Pensacola Seafood Festival, presented by Fiesta of Five Flags, is expected to attract the usual droves of seafood, entertainment and craft lovers. Festival organizers wholeheartedly point out that the Gulf oil spill should have no negative impact on the festival.
“I think we will have plenty of visitors this year even after the oil (spill),” said Brad Huggins, First Lieutenant for Fiesta Forces Commandos and lead Commando for the Pensacola Seafood Festival. “The weather is starting to cool down, and more people want to be outside and enjoy the beauty of Pensacola.”
The three-day festival will be held in Seville Square beginning Friday, Sept. 24 at 11 a.m. Touted as one of the largest arts and crafts fairs in northwest Florida, the Pensacola Seafood Festival is expected to draw over 100,000 festival goers to sample the 160 arts and crafts vendors as well as 18 “carefully selected” food vendors that will border the park, according to the Fiesta website. The number of arts and crafts vendors has actually dropped from previous years, but not because of lack of interest.
“Due to the increased entertainment venue, we have had to limit the number of arts and crafts vendors to about 160 spots, and our arts and crafts spots are all full,” said festival chairman Paul Remke. Several well-known musical acts will take the stage at this year’s festival, adding to the substantial entertainment and activities schedule.
“We have some great entertainment lined up from funding given to Fiesta through the Escambia County Tourism Development Council: The Molly Ringwalds, Fastball and Sister Hazel,” said Huggins. He added that beverage sales are a principal moneymaker for the festival, which he claimed is influenced by the entertainment.
“A lot of the money that we make is dependent on beverage sales,” he said. “The better the entertainment and the more beverage sales we have, the bigger and better our events can be every year.”
In addition to the food, arts, crafts and entertainment, the festival offers children’s activities and Splash Dogs, a canine dock-jumping competition. Artisans and craftsmen from around the nation will be featuring an array of art including pottery, jewelry, mixed media, metalwork and more.
“All of our arts and crafts vendors at the festival are required to have homemade articles—no buy and resale,” said Huggins. And who could forget about the seafood? Conch, seafood gumbo, coconut shrimp, soft shell crab and Caribbean crab cakes are just a small sample of the aquatic fare at the festival.
“All of the food vendors are playing it by ear on where and what they can get for seafood, but we know it will all be safe,” said Remke. “Even though it is the Pensacola Seafood Festival, it’s about much more than just seafood. While the oil leak has broken the hearts of many, we hope that this year’s festival shows Pensacola and the world how great our area is and how great our waterways are and always will be.”
Organizing the 33rd annual festival is no small undertaking. There is a reason the group within the Fiesta of Five Flags includes the name “forces.”
“The Pensacola Seafood Festival is organized by one big committee. There are about 40 people on the Pensacola Seafood Committee,” said Remke. “Under the main committee, we have about 20 subcommittees. The subcommittees range from security, entertainment, arts and crafts coordinating, merchandise sales, and everything in between. We also have a great staff at the Fiesta of Five Flags office, which does a lot of the festival preparation work.” Membership of Fiesta of Five Flags hovers around 450, and a substantial number of people are needed to put on an event like this one.
“Fiesta Forces volunteers actually provide the manpower to put on the festival from cleanup, setup, tear down, entertainment, vendor relations, security, sales of souvenirs and pavers, community relations, signs and supplies and beverage sales,” said Huggins. Some other events put on by Fiesta include the Fiesta Boat Parade, Cox and Fiesta Children’s Treasure Hunt, DeLuna Landing Ceremony, Beach Community Bank Fiesta Sand Sculpture Contest and Pensacola Crawfish Festival. Remke said the group is always looking for a few good men and women.
“The Fiesta Forces are the pulse of the organization,” said Remke. “Without their volunteer work, we wouldn’t be able to run the event. We have over 450 members at last count and are always looking for more. It’s also a great way to meet new people if you are new to the area.” He added that those interested in joining Fiesta should fill out an application online at fiestaoffiveflags.org or call the office at 433-6512.
THE 33RD ANNUAL PENSACOLA SEAFOOD FESTIVAL
WHEN: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24-26
WHERE: Seville Square, at Alcaniz and Government streets, downtown Pensacola