Milford Oyster Festival marks 44th year

Honor Allen, center, first place winner in the Oyster Shucking Contest at the Oyster Festival, with second and third place winners Ed Nead, right, and Eli Carter, left.

Honor Allen, center, first place winner in the Oyster Shucking Contest at the Oyster Festival, with second and third place winners Ed Nead, right, and Eli Carter, left.

The Milford Oyster Festival, voted “The Best Food Festival in Connecticut” by National Geographic and “The 5th Best Oyster Festival,” celebrated its 44th year on Saturday, Aug. 18.

“The Milford Oyster Festival has grown into Connecticut’s largest single day festival attracting about 50,000 people,” said Mayor Ben Blake. “A tradition of family fun since 1975, some of this year’s attractions included schooner cruises, over 200 Arts & Crafts exhibitors, a classic car show, children’s entertainment, live music featuring two headliners - Eddie Money and John Cafferty and the Brown Beaver Band, and my favorite event - the Mayor’s Cup canoe, kayak, outrigger and SUP race. And of course, since the festival celebrates the important history the oyster industry once had in our city, the East Coast Growers Association again host oyster shucking and eating contests.”

Oyster Eve, a pre-festival tradition, kicked off the popular annual as thousands gathered Friday evening and Saturday to enjoy the numerous festivities, which included a Canoe & Kayak Race, a Craft Beer and Wine Garden back by popular demand, Tall Ship SoundWater’s Schooner Cruise (80-foot schooner), Arts and Crafts on the Green, an Oyster Shucking Contest, an Oyster Eating Competition, a Classic Car Show, live music featuring Eddie Money following John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, and Mark C. Daniel & the Free Radicals, Main Street USA, numerous Children’s Stage Entertainers and Amusement Rides, Civic Group Exhibitors and more.

“Oyster Eve, the night before the festival at Lisman Landing comes alive with everything you want in a summer night,” said Jay Pinto, 1st vice president of the festival. “A beautiful harbor setting, schooner cruises, great food, oysters, live music and great craft beer and wine.” New this year was the popular Yuengling beer, added to the original 10 offered beer choices.

“The festival has evolved into an annual event that is the largest tourism event in Milford,” said Pinto. “With a large percentage of festival goers coming from outside Milford, it plays an important role in the attraction to this great city. It’s one of the only free admission one-day festivals of its size in this area, making it affordable for everyone. Keeping it a free event is almost unheard of at any event these days. The festival has a direct and positive economic impact to local businesses, hotels and to families considering moving to Milford.”

The festival’s 40,000 oysters, both salty and sweet, in 23 varieties from eight states along the East Coast were grown from Maine to Virginia and were provided by members of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, who are dedicated to the production of delicious, nutritious and sustainable shellfish. Six thousand clams along with beer and wine in two locations also added to the merriment. Foodies enjoyed sausage & peppers, lobster rolls, fried dough, pulled pork, burgers, hot dogs, fried seafood, corn dogs, steak and cheese and more. “It is the only Oyster Festival in the country and possibly the world that has this many varieties of oysters in one place at the same time,” continued Pinto. “We will be attempting to set a world record this year with the many oyster varieties.”

Seven men participated in the Oyster Eating Competition, including Mayor Blake, who noted his strategy as, “Enjoy the slurp.” Peter Berube took the win, eating his dozen oysters in lightning speed. Honor Allen took the win in the oyster shucking competition, winning the $1,000 first place prize, followed by Ed Nead who took second and Eli Carter who took third.

“We are so excited to be celebrating the 44th Annual Milford Oyster Festival,” said Ila Tokarz, Festival president and food court chair. “The committee has put together another great lineup of events and attractions for all. This includes a wide selection of fresh oysters, over 150 Arts & Crafts vendors, representation from 50 plus civic groups and of course our musical entertainment with Eddie Money headlining the main stage.”

“As Milford residents know, Milford is a special place,” added Pinto. “Its community minded residents appreciate the hometown feel of this history-rich city. Celebrating the historic importance of Milford’s oyster industry through an event that raises money for over 70 local non-profit and civic organizations while showing off its beautiful downtown and businesses is the festival’s main purpose. The Oyster Festival’s role is not only important to remind us of the oyster’s history in Milford, but to also be an event that has meaningful and impactful purpose to its nonprofit community.”