The most exciting time of the year for the Everglades City locals is finally upon us, Seafood Fest Weekend! The annual Everglades Seafood Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary on February 7th, 8th, and 9th! Each year, nearly 75,000 people come from all over the United States and the world to the Stone Crab capital of the world to enjoy three full days of delicious seafood, live entertainment and many other festivities. Come Friday the 7th, you can find my friends and I drove down from the University of Florida, jamming to Country music heading down to Everglades City.
This weekend is not just a normal festival you find in other cities, this one is a family and friend reunion. Many locals whose family members or friends moved away always try to take off work to make it back to their hometown, visit and have fun. A few of my family members drive down every year in their RV and camp out at our dock. We’ll be feasting on fresh Stone Crab claws with them looking over the Barron River. My house is the only house in the middle of the festival! We open our gates to our family and friends to come in and sit down at the tables we set up or rock in the rocking chairs on our porch. Living in the middle of the festival has its perks. Sure, it’ll be tough to get out and go anywhere in a vehicle, but I can walk two steps out of my gate and be in the festival booths without having to find a parking space.
The locals aren’t the only ones who enjoy it. There are many people who come every year from all over to eat seafood and enjoy the festivities. It becomes a tradition. A lot of people come down to collect the beer mugs that have the Everglades Seafood Festival logo on them. They change each year, changing to a different color and adding the present year to them. This year, they’re a baby blue with the 50th–anniversary logo printed on them!
Friday night is family night—parents can bring their kids to buy wristbands and ride the carnival rides as many times as they want to. When I was younger, I would look out the kitchen window and watch as they were setting up the carnival rides. At night I would stare out my bedroom window as they were all lit up, flashing and glowing against my light pink walls. I would countdown the days as I watched them set up. When Friday finally came, my mom would check me out of school early and ride me around on the golf cart so I could see them all before five o’clock came and I could ride them. Even today as a 22-year-old I still get giddy seeing the rides.
If you’re not a seafood lover, do not fret! There are plenty of other food options and venders to choose from. There’s American cuisine, tasty barbecue, and I can’t possibly forget to mention every local favorite, Indian burgers. Us locals wait a year for these amazing Indian fry-bread burgers. They are such a hit at the festival that if you don’t get to the booth early, you’ll have to take a number and wait up to two hours for yours. But don’t let that time scare you because trust me when I say this, they are so worth the wait. I like seafood, so if you are a seafood lover, the options are endless. Shrimp, blue crab, gator nuggets, crawfish and more are waiting for you to devour. When it comes to drinks there are beer booths where you can enjoy a cold beer in your new Everglades Seafood Festival cup or there are Coke booths that are run by Everglades City School. Each year the high school students sign up to work four hours in a two-day span alongside the school staff in the Coke booths in order to raise money for our school! All of the proceeds go towards our school programs and the students’ prom. I remember having to sign up when I was in high school and how excited I was to get to work with my favorite teachers and friends. I would always pick to work in the booth near the stage so I could listen to the music and wave at my friends that I would see walking by.
My dad used to sing every year for the Everglades Seafood Festival before he retired from singing years ago. I remember even when I was a toddler, sitting out in the crowd watching him sing, having him dedicate songs to my mom and me. Every seat in front of the stage would be filled with people waiting to hear him sing, and it was so bittersweet when he decided to stop. Well, this year for the 50th anniversary my dad is coming out of retirement and singing on Friday at 6:30 PM. I am ecstatic, to say the least, to be able to watch my dad sing some of his favorite country songs one more time on that stage. There are other amazing acts too that will be singing on stage during the weekend. Kentucky native and rising country music singer-songwriter Matt Chappell will be performing, and Charlie Pace will be singing on the main stage Saturday. Nashville stars have also stood on the stage to perform in years prior. Billy Currington, Little Big Town, John Anderson, David Lee Murphy, and Little Jimmy Dickens are just a few that have graced us with their voices. To view the lineup for this year you can check out the Everglades City Seafood Festival Facebook page or the Everglades Seafood Festival website. The event is free for all to attend.
If you’re looking for something fun to do the weekend of February 7th, I highly recommend you come down to Everglades City and help us locals celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Everglades Seafood Festival!