42nd annual Oyster Festival draws about 50,000
MILFORD >> After 42 years, it is still going strong.
Hundreds of people Saturday took the train or shuttle buses to participate in bivalve nirvana, better known as the Milford Oyster Festival.
The downtown event drew about 50,000 people, a city official estimated.
With multiple streets closed to traffic and turned into pedestrian walkways, the festival organizers recommended that people coming from the New Haven area leave their cars at the West Haven Metro-North station and get off 8 minutes later in Milford.
Consumption of the tasty mollusks started early and continued into the evening with 45,000 delivered to the harbor area by the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.
Pat Rua of Milford came with her granddaughter, Jessica Draeger, and her great-grandson, Jaxon.
“It is a place where you meet friends you haven’t seen in a while. Everyone is down here enjoying themselves,” Rua said.
“The food is good and the bands are great,” Draeger said. The Marshall Tucker Band and the Blue Oyster Cult were the headliners this year.
For people who wanted to see the best way to shuck an oyster, more than two dozen experts from around the country, with one from Toronto, put on a show.
They competed for cash prices and were cheered on by visitors who downed their own oysters and beer at high-top tables set up in front of the knife-wielding professionals.
They were judged not only on speed, but presentation, with points taken off for cracked shells or any grit left in the mollusks. It took just a little over two minutes to crack open a dozen oysters and plate them.
Many of those in attendance had a long history with the festival.
Edward Rhodes’ memories of the event go back more than four decades when he worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries lab on Rogers Avenue, where research continues to be done on oysters.
He remembers the first festival on the Green, where they brought oyster touch tanks, live oyster larvae and microscopes and shells from around the world to give the public a little history on the mollusks.
He went away for a long time to South America and Mexico and when he came back to Milford in 2001, Rhodes, 73, found there were hardly any oysters at the festival because the sponsors could not return the leftovers.
By then associated with the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, Rhodes said they were able to help provide the oysters, and the issue of leftovers was solved by the use of their refrigerated trucks.
Joining the local crowd, and waiting patiently in the food line, were Bill Brown and Aline Brown, who are moving to the area from Canada because of a job transfer.
Here since Wednesday, they said Milford is getting high marks as their next home. The festival and some great restaurants locally were making it an easy choice, they said.
There were also plenty of young families strolling through the festival from the shaded Green where arts and crafts was set up, down to the harbor.
Brian Yelvington of Fairfield, with two children in tow, was also there for the first time.
“I think during the summer, people are always looking for things to do with their kids. Generally, if you got a place with food and rides and various forms of entertainment,” it’s a good bet, he said.
Of course, the oysters were also part of the draw.
“We very much do like oysters. That helps too,” Yelvington said, referring to himself and his wife.