A Southern Tradition
Published: September 30, 2017
By: Paige Townley
Food, fun, and sun combine to create the perfect setting for the Annual National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores. Held every year in October, the event attracts anyone and everyone across the state of Alabama and well beyond its borders. “The thing about the Shrimp Festival is that it’s held at the perfect time of year when the weather is about as good as it can get,” says Ed Rodriguez, president of the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber. “October is a beautiful time here on the beach. It makes for the perfect atmosphere.”
That atmosphere includes hundreds of vendors selling everything from fine art to arts and crafts and all sorts of other retail items. It also includes a menu ranging from classic seafood dishes to more unique treats and, of course, shrimp cooked practically any and every way imaginable. “We strive really hard to make sure that all three of the major aspects of the festival – food, entertainment, and art – offer something for everyone,” Rodriguez adds. “Yes, it’s a shrimp festival, but it’s so much more.”
While today the festival is known as one of the largest events in the southeast, it originally started in 1971 as a way to attract more tourists to the beach after Labor Day. The very first festival was essentially a shrimp boil on the beach that lasted about five hours with just a few vendors and featured the first annual Seafood Cooking Contest, a sandcastle contest, a turkey shoot, and a Gulf sea life exhibit. About 1,500 people attended that first festival, but since then, the festival has grown exponentially. “Over the years it has really taken on a new life,” says Rodriguez. “It kept getting bigger and bigger, and it’s a huge event now.”
Today, the Annual National Shrimp Festival attracts more than 250,000 people to the Gulf Shores public beach boardwalk, contributing more than $46 million of total economic impact to the local area. Yet, its focus on fun for the whole family is still the same. More than 300 exhibitors are in attendance with a variety of wares, kids have the opportunity to show off their creativity in the Children’s Activity Village, two main stages are constantly hosting various musical acts performing everything from jazz to country and classic rock, and a 5K and 10K run/walk is held as well.
The event also continues to include the ever-popular traditional favorites as well: the Annual Seafood Cooking Contest, which is now known as “Best of the FEST,” and the Sand Sculpture Contest. The Shrimp Festival is starting a new tradition this year with the Little Miss Shrimp Festival Pageant, which is open to young ladies from pre-K to sixth grade in Baldwin County.
The Shrimp Festival was named the Top Festival for the State of Alabama in 2016. “We have more than 600 volunteers who work together to make sure this event is spectacular every year,” Rodriguez says. “So many from our community get involved and devote hours and hours to ensuring the success of the festival. It’s amazing how many people come together to make it happen, and it’s getting better and better each year.”
For more information, go to www.myshrimpfest.com.
Paige Townley is a Birmingham freelance writer.