01 January 2015
2015 to Feature Hundreds of Fun Festivals & Special Events
By Chuck Spicer
Back a quarter century ago when this publication was initiated and this region hadn’t even been branded as “Florida’s Forgotten Coast”, the number of festivals and special events staged in this coastal paradise was rather limited. Rarely did two events conflict with each other and attendance was mostly limited to folks who resided in proximity to the events.
How times have changed. Franklin County alone has more than 100 festivals and special events on its 2015 calendar. Chip in a hundred and fifty more festivals and special events planned for Wakulla and Gulf Counties (plus Mexico Beach in eastern Bay County) and you have the makings of a truly busy, fun filled 2015 calendar on the Forgotten Coast.
And since there are but 52 weekends simple ciphering will tell you that a whole lot of those work break weekends will have two or more events staged at the same time. Which leads to a whole lot of folks dividing their days up between events.
Some of the festivals have been around for ages. Like the Florida Seafood Festival (November in Apalachicola), which recently turned the corner on 51 years as the state’s oldest maritime & seafood spectacle. And then there is Panacea’s Blue Crab Festival which is creeping up on the 40-year mark. St. George Island was named the “Florida Rural Community of the Year” for its “SGI Charity Chili Cookoff & Auction” volunteer efforts back some two decades ago and the first Saturday in March charity event is now in its thirties and still going strong.
It is estimated that each of these events lures upwards of 10,000 attendees. As does the Stone Crab Festival in St. Marks, the Sopchoppy Worm Grunting Festival and the Gulf County Scallop & Music Festival in Port St. Joe. Also scooting up there in popularity are such events as the annual Apalachicola Oyster Festival (January) and the Mexico Beach Gumbo Cookoff (February) which will soon be stirring up a food storm for the 17th time.
Many of the events are free. Some request donations. Some charge a nominal fee. A family of four can attend even the most popular of festivals for considerably less than $20. Most are for a charitable cause. Ranging from local volunteer fire departments to orphaned wild mammals. From local public libraries and hospitals to Humane Societies. The list goes on.
Likely the most generous of them all during the past decade has been the Kingfish Shootout sponsored by and staged at C-Quarters Marina in Carrabelle. During the past 11 years owner Jimmy Crowder plus his family, friends and the fishermen have raised and donated more than $750,000 to the Leukemia Research Foundation. Even if you aren’t a fishing fan, this is the kind of worthwhile local event that certainly encourages you to just drop by and drop some bucks in the bucket.
As one might expect, “seafood” (and food, in general) is the most popular theme of our local events. Ranging from oysters, scallops and crabs to shrimp and mullet. But there are also chilli cookoffs on St. George Island and in Port St. Joe. And gumbo cookoffs in Mexico Beach and Lanark Village. The Eastpoint Volunteer Fire department fires up the grills for a rib cookoff in March and Weems Hospital gets a boost from the “Butts & Clucks” cookoff and auction. And we must not forget the 25th Tupelo Honey Festival in Wewahitchka in May.
The most unique event of them all has to be the Sopchoppy Worm Grunting Festival on the Highway 319 curve in Wakulla County. Residents have been beckoning earth worms with good vibrations for centuries and visitors come from around the country to learn how to achieve this rural art form. And where else in the world can you attend a “Worm Grunter’s Ball?”
Still another two festivals that certainly fit into the “unique” category are the St. George Island Mullet Toss (yes, Virginia, they actually throw mullet) and the “Stone Age Primitive Arts Festival” at Ochlockonee River State Park. This one’s an absolute must as a lesson in life to youngsters as to how we survived before cell phones and iPods.
In February St. Marks Wildlife Refuse will hold its 9th Annual Wildlife Festival and three March events are a testament to our “variety” as there will be a Ducks Unlimited Banquet, “Authors in Apalach.”, and A St. Vincent Island Open House.
Nashville has fallen in love with the Forgotten Coast and vice versa. What started off as a few Nashville songwriters visiting this region and performing a few impromptu numbers has turned into a full-fledged festival spread over three counties.
Speaking of “all over the place” events, the Plein Air Paintout in early May surely encompasses more of the Forgotten Coast than any other single event. This 10-day affair features some two dozen artists from across the country putting the Forgotten Coast to canvas. The area has certainly embraced this cultural event.
Speaking of culture, during the first three months of each year the cultural spotlight surely shines on the Dixie Theatre on Avenue E in Historic Downtown Apalachicola. Each year Dixie Partington schedules dozens and dozens of outstanding musical performances, plays and such for those who appreciate the arts. Hardly a night goes by that there isn’t something worth seeing and hearing at the Dixie.
This is also the time period that the Ilse Newel Concert Series is staged at Trinity Episcopal Church in Apalach. Can you afford a $5 donation? And during this period you can also catch a couple plays presented by the “Panhandle Players”, the talented regional theatrical group.
One of the more “majestic” charitable events on the Forgotten Coast is the Stephen Smith Memorial Regatta which is staged over a weekend at Shell Point in Wakulla County. For more than three decades proceeds have gone towards Cancer Research.
We’ve got fishing and more fishing. Tournaments from Mexico Beach (Ling Ding Tourney every weekend in April) to Panacea (Rock the Dock Tourney that may drew more than 400 in 2015). And the Father’s Day Weekend “Big Bend Saltwater Classic” that is headquartered in Carrabelle but also features weigh stations in Wakulla and Gulf Counties. It is the largest charitable (Organization for Artificial Reefs) fishing event in Northwest Florida. Still another group that successfully builds reefs off our coast is the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA) that sponsors an event that draws fishermen from throughout the Southeast. There is still another Mexico Beach Marina tourney and we’ve got catfish tourneys and also some freshwater events. But most importantly, we have tournaments (and clinics) for youngsters in Panacea, Port St. Joe, Carrabelle and St. George Island.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that there will be several golf tournaments staged at the three 18-hole golf courses in Wakulla, Franklin & Gulf Counties. And in May of 2014 the region was introduced to a whole new event called a “Paddlejam.” Kayakers from throughout the Southeast gathered and joined hands (actually paddles) in an attempt to break the World Record gathering. They will try again this year.
As usual, we will have “tours” in 2015. The annual Apalachicola Home & Garden Tour always draws hundreds to the 3,000-resident community as they seek an up close and personal look inside some of the most unique and architecturally significant structures in the city. This will be the 22nd such event. St. George Island started a home tour a couple years ago and you can even “tour” St. Vincent Island.
Let’s see what else we have in store in 2015. In late February the annual “Pig Party” will be held in Crawfordville. This “Swine Festival” features 4Hers doing their thing and some great BBQ. In the fall there will be a “Fall Festival” at the Carrabelle Senior center and the Apalachicola Chamber sponsored “Chef’s Sampler” is always a sell out and the chamber’s downtown “oyster roast” during the seafood festival is always a culinary success. Two African-American History Festivals are scheduled as well. And we certainly shouldn’t forget the annual re-enactment of Civil War “Battle of Natural Bridge” in March and the Mexico Beach Art & Wine Festival in the fall.
The Apalachicola Maritime Museum (on water Street in Apalach) continually has special events scheduled and usually lists those activities in its monthly column.
The Camp Gordon Johnston Association (based in eastern Franklin County) makes sure our American fighting men (past & present) are not forgotten as it holds its Camp Gordon Johnston Reunion Days in Carrabelle. Kindly note that these dates have been moved from March to May this year. Apalachicola stages an “Art Walk & Wine Tasting” in March. Beacon Hill is the site of two different “Beach Blast” triathlon events (spring and fall) and St. George Island, Apalachicola and Wakulla Springs stage road races.
In April 2015 we will enjoy the Apalachicola Antique & Classic Boat Show and a week later there will be an annual Carrabelle Riverfront Festival. Wakulla Springs will host the annual “Wakulla Springs Wildlife Festival” and the majestic monarch will be appreciated at the Monarch Festival in St. Marks.
As always December 2015 will be dominated by Christmas celebrations in every community along the entire Forgotten Coast. Apalachicola gets things kicked off on “Black Friday” weekend and Port St. Joe celebrates in December. St. George Island lights its palms and St. Marks features a lighted boat parade. Carrabelle also features a lighted boat parade, live entertainment and fireworks on the second Saturday of December. Ironically, one man in a red & white suit always seems to be present at each and every one of these events.
Since this article was written from memory (and that isn’t quite what it used to be) we surely left out a whole lot of the many planned events. But by now you have the idea. This is going to be a mighty busy place. Come join us!
You are encouraged to take a glance at our 2015 Calendar each month. Either in “Forgotten Coastline” or on www.forgottencoastline.com. And there is a reason why we provide contact number and websites. Stuff happens. At least a half dozen events were either cancelled or postponed in 2014 and, naturally, it always seems to happen after this “monthly miracle” has been printed. And, yes, we even make mistakes. For that we apologise in advance. It is no easy chore keeping up with all of these activities. And kindly remember that they are all run by volunteers, so we don’t get overly upset over delays, changes or postponements and you shouldn’t either. Just relax and enjoy.