Wednesday, August 16, 2017  

Urbanna Oyster Festival


One of the most successful festivals in the state, the Urbanna Oyster Festival is one of Urbanna, Virginia’s most beloved traditions. With live music, parades, activities for the kids, street sales from vendors state wide, contests, and of course the great food, the Oyster Festival has become well known—and not only by the locals. From South Carolina to Kentucky to New York State, people travel from all over the east coast to visit what is officially designated as the official oyster festival for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

by Kate Tressler

There is a good chance as locals that we have attended the festival put on each year by The Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation and know what it’s all about. As children we ride the rides, ask our parents for things bought at the many vendors, and taste our first oysters. As adults we enjoy the wine tastings, the dance after the Fireman’s arade Friday night, and more of our favorite oysters. But what many of us don’t know is that while on the surface the Urbanna Oyster Festival is a two day event filled with fun, there is a more meaningful purpose that runs deep within the community.

The Foundation

The Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation is an entirely volunteer run foundation except for their one full time employee Pamela Simon who is the Event Administrator and spends all year working to arrange everything that is needed to run such a large event. While’s she’s busy hammering out the details and making sure that everything run smoothly when November comes around, there is a board of volunteers who also spend their time working with sponsors, arranging community service projects, and figuring out ways to promote the area year round. Their goal is to be an economic driver for the community. Studies have shown that the Urbanna Oyster Festival increases the income of the Historic Port’s businesses as well as the surrounding counties. With the influx of people to the area hotels, campgrounds, and marinas for miles around are at full capacity. The Foundation also works with multiple non-profit organizations whose biggest fundraiser of the year is their vendor space at the Festival. Community Row is a showcase of small local non-profits within the vending area that get special discounted booth space by the foundation to make sure they can be a part of the Festival and reap the benefits of a crowd of approximately 60,000 people each year.

Marine Science Legacy Program & Oyster Festival Day Education

The Marine Science Legacy Program, established by the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation, was created as an educational outreach program designed to bring an understanding of the Chesapeake Bay, it’s ecology, history, heritage, and future to Middlesex County and those who attend the festival each year. The program involves students and teachers in active environmental learning by providing in-service opportunities, local field trips— both on and off the water— and educational enrichment within the classroom and school.Oyster Festival Education Day bring the resources of the entire festival and more to students of the local schools on the Thursday before the festival. It is a cooperative effort on the Marine Science Legacy Program, the Oyster Festival Waterfront Committee, and the Foundation and newest sponsor Rappahannock River Oysters.

Oyster Festival Queen & Little Miss Spat

The crowning of the Oyster Festival Queen and Little Miss Spat is a long-standing tradition dating all the way back to 1960 and 1966 consecutively. Though first started as a type of beauty pageant, the contest has evolved into a scholarship competition. The Urbanna Oyster Festival Queen Scholarship Competition awards scholarships to the Festival Queen, the top two runners-up, and Miss Congeniality. The scholarships are available through the generosity of local sponsors. The competition starts early in the summer and extends until the crowning takes place on the Friday of the Oyster Festival.

Queen contestants must be a high school senior and residents of Middlesex County and is judged in five areas: individual community service project, individual judges interview, academic achievement, a spontaneously written response to a random question, and overall participation in the competition.Little Miss Spat, whose contestants are chosen by each Queen contender choosing a first grade girl. They are judged separately from the queens on three areas: how well they conduct themselves at the queen and spat dinner, their overall participation, and individual interviews with three separate judges.

Grand Marshall and Oyster Festival Captain

Two distinguished honorary titles of the Urbanna Oyster Festival are the Grand Marshall and the Oyster Festival Captain. The Grand Marshall is someone who is important to the community, someone who has proven that the community would not be the same without them. The Oyster Festival Captain is usually someone who works with or on the water who honors the heritage and culture that is part of Middlesex County’s history.

Oyster Shucking Competition

Since Urbanna is home of The Virginia “official” Oyster Festival, it is only appropriate that some of the best oyster shuckers in the world practice their trade at the annual oyster shucking contest. The winner of the contest is declared State Champion and advances to compete in the National Oyster Shucking Contest in St. Mary’s, Marlyand. The national Champion then travels to Galway, Ireland to participate in the world Champtionship. Urbanna’s own Deborah Pratt and Clementine Macon have made several trips to the national championship as well as to Ireland to defend their reign. Although the emphasis is on speed, there are other factors on which the contestants are judges such as the amount of shell fragments, clean separation of the oyster from the shell, and damage to the meat of the oyster.

Important Festival Information

When coming out to this years festival there are some key things that you’ll want to remember.

  • This is a walking festival. Though there will be limited parking in town on Friday, Saturday all parking will be outside of town so remember your tennis shoes and strollers. Bikes are also prohibited.
  • No pets allowed. To keep the peace and protect our patrons, please leave all pets at home as they are not allowed on the festival premise during festival hours.
  • Try the fritters. You won’t regret it!
  • Bring your friends; Bring your family! The Urbanna Oyster Festival has events and activities for all ages. So don’t forget to bring those closest to you so you can share the enjoyment of the experience that is the Urbanna Oyster Festival.
  • Have Fun! The last and most important thing you should remember for the upcoming festival is to have fun. A schedule of events can be found at the Urbanna Oyster Festival website www.urbannaoysterfestival.com

From everyone at the Foundation and the Town of Urbanna and who helps make the Festival what it is today... We hope to see you there!

A special thanks to Joe Heyman, this year’s Oyster Festival Foundation Chairman and Pam Simon, the Foundation’s Event Administrator for the information and photos and to the sponsors of the Urbanna Oyster Festival for 2012: The Allen Group, Inc corporate sponsor; Bethpage Camp-Resort and Grey’s Point Camp sponsers of the Queen Scholarship Competition; EVB Bank sponsor of the Community Row and Queen Scholarship Competition; Virginia Lottery; Premium Distributing Company of Virginia and Miller Brewing Company; Rappahannock River Oyster Company; Revere Gas; Chesapeake Bay Oyster Company; New Kent Winery; Lake Anna Winery; James River Cellars; The Dog and Oyster Vineyard; Bon Secours; Bristow-Faulkner Funeral Home; C&F Bank; Colonial Virginia Bank; Dr. C. Ben Lennon; Rappahannock Concrete Corporation; Rosegill Development; Thurston Properties; Oyster Company of Virginia; Thurston Spring Service Inc; Ryman’s A/C & Heating; Unique Golf Carts; The Family of Syd Thrift; Gloucester Toyota & Scion; and Kathleen M. Hall, C.P.A.,PC. Information taken in part from the Oyster Festival 50th anniversay booklet.