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Oyster Festival ‘It’s the reason we come here’

The local vendors of Community Row saw lots of traffic on Virginia Street as Urbanna Oyster Festival visitors walked to and from waterfront activities. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by To Chillemi

Just when you think you’ve seen (and heard) it all . . . something like this occurs—and it only could happen at the Urbanna Oyster Festival.

As visitors toured the tall ship “Godspeed” at the town marina, the waterfront band broke into a disco tune. Not just any disco song, but “You Should be Dancing” by the Bee Gees.

A variety of Dirt Road Wine, located in Washington, Va., is poured at the wine tasting area during the Urbanna Oyster Festival. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

For those who missed the disco decade of the 1970s and think of John Travolta as a dramatic actor, he’s much more than that. In 1977, he starred in “Saturday Night Fever,” and he is the iconic photo on the dance floor in the white suit with one arm held high in the air and with his hips cocked to one side. 

You either liked disco or you had an unprintable expression for the bouncy beat that had pushed southern rock to the side—at least for some.

Nevertheless, a tip of the hat goes out to Joe Maniscalco & the Toucan Jam Band and the gutsy guy who belted out “You should be dancing—yeah,” and that unrecognizable next line . . . “What you doin’ on your back, aah? . . . You should be dancing—yeah,”

Maniscalco said, “We do everything.” And, if his band can sing the falsetto Bee Gees, many would agree that covers “everything.”

Oyster time
The song echoes—just like the good times that bring back thousands of visitors to Urbanna on the first Friday and Saturday of November each year.

Kim and Eric Branch have lost count of how many times they’ve been to the Oyster Festival. On Friday, they drove from Powhatan for the day “just for oysters.” Eric likes his cooked in a fried Middlesex Lions Club fritter. Kim takes hers roasted on the half shell.

Their visit to Urbanna would be brief; they had to return to the fast lane to pick up their kids from school.

Diane Luttrell of Urbanna gave a thumbs up on the clam chowder at the Christ Church Parish tent. She recommended the crab nuggets at Payne’s Crab House, which usually sell out quickly. This delicacy was especially memorable this year, given that sisters Beatrice Taylor and Catherine Via are thinking about giving up their business at the foot of Virginia Street. But, this year they had plenty of help. “If you’re looking for a Walton or a Payne, come to Payne’s Crab House . . . they’re all here,” said Taylor, as she fried soft-shell crabs. 

Doug West of Mechanicsville and a group of friends were searching for Oysters Rockefeller. They had just finished sampling oysters at the Middlesex Kiwanis Club.

Were they on a budget? “We’ll worry about that on Monday,” said West. “This only happens once a year, no matter the cost.”

Karen Engard and her daughter Nicole Aycock of Richmond were preparing to eat a half dozen oysters at the Kiwanis tent. “I always stop here,” said Engard, who has been a festival faithful for 30 years. “This is my favorite.”

“I want my bisque!”
A short ways east on Virginia Street, a line formed by the faithful waiting for the Middlesex Woman’s Club famous crab bisque.

Urbanna and Richmond resident Susan Beach, who was near the front of the line, had been standing there for 10 minutes. “I’m not one to wait,” she said. “It’s a good sign I’m waiting . . . I must be acquiring patience.”

Perhaps it was the enticing flavor memories that held so many captive. “I’m hungry,” said Linda Singletary of Vienna. “I want my bisque.”

Phil Marcum of Great Falls had been at his first Urbanna Oyster Festival for just 30 minutes—mostly in this line. “They convinced me it’s worth the wait.” After he tasted the secret blend of spices, he said. “It was worth the wait.”

Cathy Absher of Virginia Beach also was waiting for bisque. However, her mind was elsewhere. “The night before Oyster Festival I go to bed thinking about that oyster fritter,” she said.

Cathy said she can only eat one, although she admits to wishing she could eat more. “They have the best cocktail sauce . . . and big fat oysters falling out of it while you’re eating it. It’s the reason we come here.”

posted 11.07.2012

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