Wellfleet OysterFest is one of the best events on the Cape, full stop.
In 2007, the first year I had this column, I drove up to Wellfleet where Alex Hay gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the facilities on the last day of setup. I thought the pumpkins set up on hay bales were cute. I went back the next day when it opened and it was a madhouse — in the best possible way.
People everywhere, music, the sounds of laughter, smells of soups and steamed seafood drifting on the salty air. Heaven.
You see old friends, sudden faces in the crowd.
The local art stalls are varied and beautiful. Live music from two stages. There’s usually a kids area with cotton candy and music from The Elbows (a kids band) and Trevor the Juggler (a juggler). Then uptown on the main stage are some of the best musical acts in the region: Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys, The Spampinato Brothers, The Rip-It-Ups, usually something involving Chandler Travis, the Parkington Sisters. Such fun!
It was crazily crowded. You’d be well prepared if you’ve ever been, say, on the Red Line at rush hour, or to an all-access Beastie Boys concert, or played rugby. You just have to turn and twist and keep pushing forward.
Luckily, my press badge allowed me backstage access. Backstage has no crowds, but it does have snacks and a keg of beer. It was thrilling to stand on the top of the stairs to the stage and look out over the big, boisterous crowd stretching to the edges of your vision, gathering for the bands and the shuck off finals. Cape Codders know how to party, and Wellfeetians are arguably next-level revelers.
This year? Things are different.
The good news is that something will happen. There’ll be a virtual event this Saturday — the 20th annual Wellfleet OysterFest All Star Shuck Off.
In previous years, any punter who fancied their chances could sign up to shuck off. This year the festival hand-picked 10 heavyweights. You’ll virtually see two-time champion Steve Boreen; Barbara Austin, the only woman to win it, a feat she managed three times (2006, ’07, 13); and the venerable Chopper Young, the event’s all-time winningest competitor with five titles. Young also won a world championship in 2008.
That’ll be coming to you livestreamed on YouTube at 5 p.m. Saturday. In addition to watching 10 top shuckers go at it, two short films will premiere, and there’ll be appearances by some celebrity chefs and music by G. Love. The event will be presented live (and free) from the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater.
While OysterFest dates to 2001, when Keith Rose won the very first shuck off, unofficial shuck offs have gone on for years (likely centuries) for local bragging rights. OysterFest is really a harvest festival, and harvest festivals have been part of the yearly spinning of this blue planet since recorded history. The fall harvest coincides with a big moon, and all over the agricultural world, mankind reaps the fruits of its year’s labor. It’s a timeless thing.
This year is a little different. But we’ve still got oysters, and that’s reason enough for celebration.