The second annual Oyster Fest had plenty of improvements over last year’s premiere but the same nagging problem at its core – who holds a raw seafood fest on blacktop in 95 degree weather? Organizers provided the misting tent so popular last year and added several tented areas for eating at tables in the shade. There were giant fans positioned throughout the parking lot and some had misters attached, but they did little to relieve those standing in the sun. Luckily, the food is unique enough to warrant discomfort and the music includes local favorites while keeping things intimate.
First onstage was the Treme Brass Band. The men of this band have been playing so long, they make it look absolutely effortless, like they’re laying in hammocks or fishing, not churning out standards full of the soul of this city. Trumpeter and vocalist, Kenneth Terry’s version of What a Wonderful World slowed the beat down for a moment and gave us all time to reflect on spending a day with loved ones eating fabulous seafood in the heart of the French Quarter. The band finished their set with the one-two punch of When the Saints Come Marching In and Professor Longhair’s Go to the Mardi Gras.
There were cooking classes for adults and crafting classes using oyster shells for kids, both with chairs and shade. Between concerts, the main stage hosted an oyster shucking contest sponsored by P&J with shuckers from 10 major restaurants including Red Fish Grill, Luke and Royal House Oyster Bar. P&J has been cultivating and harvesting oysters since 1876 and has been integral to the birth of this new festival.
There were 2 heats of 5 shuckers each shucking as many oysters as they could in 2 minutes. Only oysters perfectly shucked to slide off the shell counted. The winner (though there was some dispute as to whether he stopped on time) was the shucker from Desire with 20 oysters. A 3-way tie of 19 oysters was broken by the gentleman from Bourbon House.
We ate a Bourbon BBQ Shrimp PoBoy from Bourbon House and Shrimp and Grits from Pat O’Brien’s which was done with a fried cheese-grit cake. A Mango Freeze from GW Fins kept us from melting away but, with the heat, we consumed more water than oysters.
The next band up was the Bucktown All-Stars, a cover band specializing in upbeat singalongs like Charles Wright’s Express Yourself. They got the crowd dancing and I wanted to stay longer but, after several hours of hiding under my parasol, the surface-of-the-sun-like heat relentlessly radiating up from the blacktop did me in. I decided to conserve some energy for Day 2.