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Festival delivers again

by Tom Chillemi

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It’s the Lions Club oyster fritters that bring Ivory Barnes of Fredericksburg to the festival every year.

Saturday, the big day of the Urbanna Oyster Festival, was a day of contrasts—but the show went on.

There was drama as rain drizzled down in the morning.

There was hope when the skies lightened around noon.

And were blue skies and warm sunshine in time for the 2 p.m. Oyster Festival Parade.

For the faithful, the 51st Urbanna Oyster Festival delivered all the fanfare they’ve come to expect.

Waiting for Saturday’s parade to begin, WRAR radio emcee Tom Davis entertained the crowd near the reviewing stand.

Marvin Mason of Remlik took the microphone and sang the chorus of a song written about Urbanna, which summed up the festival pretty well:

“Oyster shells and oyster boats,
Crab pots and crab floats,
Smiling faces everywhere you turn. . . .
Colors like you’ve never seen,
On the cover of a magazine.
Little town, little town,
Urbanna town.”

Those lines were penned nearly 20 years ago by former Middlesex resident Slugger Morrissette, who has written songs with well-known country artists such as Mark Chesnut, Joe Diffy, Tim McGraw, Merle Haggard and others.

Although the song describes Urbanna on 363 days of the year, it seemed appropriate for this festival. Indeed, the trees were decorated for the day, and there were smiling faces everywhere.

There was much to be happy about, as people forgot the real world for a few hours and were swept up into the festival feeding frenzy. Fried oysters, a seafood fritter, a crab cake, kettle corn and a warm apple-cinnamon bun smothered with ice cream were the tastes that Pete and Kristy Dolan of Hampton had shared by 2 p.m.

Somehow, the newlyweds on an extended honeymoon had missed the Middlesex Lions Club oyster fritters. They were directed towards the Lion’s tent and they were last seen heading up Rappahannock Avenue.

At the South Pole

Olena Boyko of Urbanna, who has been coming to the Oyster Festival since 1975, loves the Lions oyster fritters. She bought six of them to go on Saturday. She had eaten two on Friday and got two more for Saturday. The others were for friends.

About six years ago when Boyko was working for Raytheon in Antarctica, her former husband mailed her an oyster fritter. She was torn, worried that since it took five days to get to her the fritter could make her sick, and being near the south pole, medical help would be iffy. “I ate about a third of it before I figured this might not be a good idea,” she recalled. “Oh, but that grease; it is so special. It tasted like home.”

Boyko still sends oyster fritters to friends in Florida.

Stocking up on oyster fritters seemed to be the idea. Ivory Barnes of Fredericksburg balanced four plates of fritters— one for her husband, one for her sister and two for Barnes’ lunch next week. “This is why I come down here every year.”

Tad Thompson of Goochland and Deltaville bought eight fritters “to go” for friends. He said they are perfect the way they’re made and don’t need any cocktail sauce.

Behind the fritter fryers, volunteers mix up the festival delicacy. Myrna Alderman, a Middlesex Lion, measured the black pepper with her hand, brushing off the excess. “It’s just like making biscuits at home.”

The batter has to be thick before the oysters can be poured into the mixture of flour and eggs. “They’re always made fresh,” she said. “It ruins them if they’re put into the refrigerator.”

Volunteer Nancy Neale of Mechanicsville volunteers every year to help make the batter. “I’ve had numerous people tell me they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Lions’ fritters.”

On the half-shell

On Saturday afternoon, the Middlesex Kiwanis tent was swamped with customers hungry for oysters on the half-shell. Mike Gwaltney of Richmond said he waited 15 or 20 minutes. He bought a dozen to split with his wife.

Howard Grabush of Westminster, Md., gave a “thumbs-up” after he polished off two dozen raw oysters.

Dawn and Chris Ponn of Page County, who were at their first festival, downed three dozen.

Larry and Sue Vann of Charlottesville had again anchored their boat in Urbanna Harbor. “We come every year and love it. These (oysters) are the best,” she said.

Most visitors say they come to the festival for the food; but music is also a big part of it. Donnie and Rana Weaver of Suffolk wowed the crowd at the Urbanna Auto Marine stage with their dancing.

As the sun set on the 51st Oyster Festival, “Sweet Justice” rocked the audience to the end with their versions of “Sweet Child of Mine” and the Eagles’ “Hotel California.”

There is little doubt they went away with music echoing in their ears and a hankering for more of the Urbanna Oyster Festival. The next one is only 358 days away on November 6-7, 2009. 

posted 11.12.2008

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