The year 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the Milford Oyster Festival. With so many gone by, some people at this year’s event said they have had their favorites in the past, some remembering favorite bands or special memories.
Barbara Genovese was volunteering with the Milford Police Citizens Academy graduates, helping to direct traffic near Scoopy Doos at Saturday’s Oyster Fest. She laughed and said her favorite festival must have been one a few years ago when it rained so hard that some of the volunteer tents flooded. Volunteers were standing, in some cases, almost knee deep in water as they cooked hot dogs, opened clams and poured beer.
“People came running into the booths for cover,” Genovese said, recalling that the festival shut down a little early that year.
Judith Toohey, who was also directing traffic on Saturday, remembered that festival too. She pointed across the street, toward a steeped driveway that leads uphill toward shops and restaurants. “There were ducks swimming right over there in the road,” Toohey said.
Festival Committee Vice President Jay Pinto said that with this year’s festival drawing about 50,000 people, 2014 may just be his favorite Oyster Festival to date.
“We’ll have to wait until the end of the day to see,” he said with a laugh.
Saturday brought what many people said was perfect weather for the festival. People cooking under the food tents at Fowler Field said it was hot, but not as hot as last year or past years by any means. There was a breeze coming off the harbor.
“It’s a perfect day,” Pinto said. “Just look at all the people.”
There were 30,000 oysters at this year’s fest, ready to be eaten. That’s 10,000 more oysters than last year because last year the festival ran out of the bivalve mollusks.
Throughout the downtown area, from the harbor to the Green, there were Milford residents and non-residents strolling or volunteering, either way enjoying the day.
Pat McAllen was volunteering with a group of city historians who were reenacting some of Milford’s past. McAllen said she probably attended the first festival 40 years ago, but she couldn’t remember precisely.
“I remember bringing my kids to festivals when they were younger, and now my granddaughter is bringing my great-granddaughter here,” McAllen said.
One sees a lot of old friends at the Oyster Festival because it tends to attract people who have moved away, or people who have just gotten wrapped up in busy lives.
“You see a lot of people you haven’t seen in years,” McAllen said.
The Rev. Kenneth Fellenbaum said he thought this year’s festival was one of the best — the weather was perfect, he said.
Fellenbaum was waiting for the annual oyster eating contest to start, and since he is a past champion — he thinks he won at the fifth or sixth oyster festival — he was sharing some of his strategy.
“Two hands, and a little sauce,” Fellenbaum said.
Paula Smith, festival president, remembered her favorite oyster festival — the year that Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes played. She enjoyed the show. That was 2005.
But Smith is a festival aficionado, having been involved in organizing many. At about 2 p.m., she was overseeing the oyster eating contest, which was won by Ricky Tun of Bridgeport, who was at the festival representing his company, Key Hyundai of Milford. Tun is a technician at Hyundai.
His winning strategy, he said, “Just keep swallowing. No chewing.”
Addisyn Kozloski, age 3, was the youngest entrant in the oyster eating contest and got plenty of encouraging yells as she slowly ate half of her dozen oysters.
Governor Dannel Malloy, who admitted to not being a big fan of oysters — he prefers cherrystone clams — declined an offer to enter the oyster eating contest, but he did help pass out oysters to participants.
And, the governor good naturedly agreed to have his photograph taken sampling one oyster, which he said was only the second he’d eaten in his life.
This year’s headline entertainer, Bret Michaels, drew a big crowd and performed some of the hits from his days as lead singer of Poison, and some cover songs.
The huge crowd was asked to be especially demonstrative in their cheering and applauding because the show was being recorded for a live album.
Kevin Lawless of Milford was pushing his two children through the oyster festival in a stroller and said that out of the 25 or so festivals he’s attended over the years, he didn’t necessarily have a favorite. But he said this one was the most crowded he could remember.
“This is more people than I’ve ever seen,” Lawless said.