Wellfleet OysterFest draws online crowd with livestreamed event
By Jessica Hill / email@example.comPosted Oct 18, 2020 at 7:00 PMUpdated at 7:49 AM
WELLFLEET — For the last 20 years, thousands of visitors have visited Wellfleet each October for its prized oysters. People would gather together, participate in shuck-off competitions, taste a multitude of oyster dishes and stuff themselves at raw bars.
None of that happened this year.
Instead, the 20th annual event was held virtually Saturday on YouTube, where people still participated in the event’s revered all star shuck-off competition, listened to music and got ideas for oyster recipes.
The festival started last Sunday with a virtual learn-to-shuck workshop, said Michele Insley, executive director of Wellfleet Shellfishing Promotion and Tasting (SPAT), the nonprofit organization formed in 2002 that stages OysterFest each year.
“It’s important to empower people on how to open the oysters themselves,” she said. “It feels like an obstacle to many people.”
The live streamed shuck-off event featured musical guest G. Love, celebrity chef hosts giving recipes and 10 all-star shuckers competing for this year’s championship. At least 1,380 viewers watched the event live, and the video had more than 6,000 views as of Sunday.
Insley said they received a lot of comments from people who said they loved the new format and thought it should continue next year, even if OysterFest is held in-person.
SPAT is not sure of how next year’s festival will be formatted, but it is a “germ of an idea,” she said.
“Our shellfishing community is comprised of, say, 300 wild harvesters and farmers and people that work for them that depend on this livelihood,” Insley said. “And it’s a historic livelihood. Shellfishing in Wellfleet existed before we were even here.”
Wellfleet, Insley said, is a natural place where oysters and clams wanted to grow, and Native people ate them for years. When settlers came, they ate them too and quickly turned the oysters into an export industry, she said.
“This event is the first prong of the organization’s marketing campaign to promote the iconic brand,” Doug Bennett, SPAT board clerk, said in a statement.
Sales of oysters have plummeted as a result of the pandemic, which further inspired SPAT to hold this year’s festival, even if not in person.
Insley said SPAT is committed to helping local oyster farmers market their product, something she said can be hard for farmers, many of whom are small business owners.
Vendors and artists usually set up tables at OysterFest. Due to the online-only nature of this year’s event, an online auction featuring limited edition merchandise will be held this week to support vendors and local artists. The auction, which runs through Friday, can be found at wellfleetspat.org.
Follow Jessica Hill on Twitter: @jess_hillyeah.