Fruits de Mer

Grilled shrimp, shrimp cocktail, tequila shrimp, coconut shrimp, shrimp bisque, shrimp over rice ... no, its not a line from the film “Forrest Gump,” it’s just a small fraction of the menu at this years Hampton Beach Seafood Festival. Don’t like shrimp? Then how about lobster rolls, fried clams, chicken tenders, barbecued ribs, clam chowder, ice cream, even deep-fried Oreos? Besides causing an instant pang of hunger, a preview of the festival’s menu online gives a tasty hint of why all Hampton Beach hotels will be completely sold out the weekend of the festival, September 10-12. Already the largest of its kind in New England, this year the seafood festival will draw 300,000 devotees over three days. Festival chair Jude Dionne expects it to be a banner year, thanks in part to 2004 being the 15th anniversary, and to a much-anticipated performance by the U.S. Navy Big Band on September 11, followed by fireworks over the ocean. The band will perform patriotic music on the Seashell Stage beginning at 6 p.m. Visitors who come on the other days of the festival will have no trouble catching the ongoing entertainment at two stages and in the children’s area, which will have magicians, storytellers and more. Boston’s food maven, Pat Whitley, will drop by to host chef demonstrations, and some sky divers will literally drop in on Sunday (see schedule to the right). Organizers were understandably proud when the festival was named one of the “Top 100 Events in North America” by the American Bus Association. The trees were just changing color last October when Dionne and the rest of the staff at the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce started thinking about this summer. They began to organize the 24 committees, 50 restaurants, dozens of bands and hundreds of volunteers that it takes to make the festival such a fun event, and important economic boost for area businesses. “Last year, a couple of restaurants told me they had their biggest day ever, bigger than any other festival,” says Dionne. Financially, it’s the number one weekend of the year for hotels and restaurants. But it’s also a good time for crafters and merchants, who offer sidewalk sales and booths selling a wide variety of gold and silver jewelry, stained glass mirrors, leather bags, tole painting, dolls, soaps, paintings, wood items, scarves, hats, handmade clothing, hair accessories, baskets, pewter, holiday decorations and lampshades. The festival hasn’t changed much over the years, much like Hampton Beach itself. The same formula has worked for decades: sun, sand, surf, fried dough, flip flops and concerts. Some restaurants — such as Widow Fletcher’s Tavern of Hampton — have been with the festival since its debut in 1988. Others are returning favorites such as the Galley Hatch, La Bec Rouge, Whale’s Tale, Ronaldo’s, Old Salt, McGuirks Ocean View, and Ashworth by the Sea. The chefs at the Ashworth will again bring their shrimp and scallop lobster newburg over rice this year. Festivalgoers purchase food as they go; the majority of food items cost $4 to $5. “We ask the restaurants to provide a sample size,” Dionne says, “but they serve a hefty sample. They’re not shy on the portions.” But how much can you eat in just one night? That’s exactly why the festival sells two-day passes for $6 (single day is $4). Friday, admission is free. Dionne says the crowds peak during the fireworks on Saturday night. She recommends mapping out the path to your favorite foods in advance by checking the detailed menu and map online at Her own route will hopefully take her by booths with lobster, including by the Galley Hatch’s lobster ravioli — if she has time, that is. “I’ll be running around,” Dionne laughs. Ocean Boulevard will be closed to traffic to make way for all the schools of people that come to eat the pounds and pounds of seafood. The event involves 500 volunteers, 15 parking lots, a dozen shuttle buses, 16 skydivers and almost a mile of food. “The seafood festival is instrumental in bringing tourism to the area, and hopefully those tourists come back,” says Dionne. “But also, the community comes together. It’s not a small community, and it takes a lot of friends to pull it all together to put on such a world-class event. It’s our last blast of the season, a time to celebrate.” Hampton Beach Seafood Festival Entertainment schedule Friday, September 10 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Seashell Stage: Lonely Gus and One Night Stand Beer Tent: Mike Livingston North Entrance: Yarina 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Seashell Stage: The Reminisants Beer Tent: Mike Livingston North Entrance: Yarina Saturday, September 11 Noon-2:30 p.m. Seashell Stage: Eastern Sound Orchestra Beer Tent: Doug Fuller (until 4 p.m.) North Entrance: Yarina 3 p,m,-5:30 p.m. Seashell Stage: The Flounders Beer Tent: Paul Wayne North Entrance: Yarina 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Seashell Stage: The U.S. Navy Northeast Big Band Beer Tent:Paul Wayne North Entrance: Yarina Sunday, September 12 Noon-2:30 p.m. Seashell Stage: All Summer Long Beer Tent: Mike Moore North Entrance: Yarina 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Seashell Stage: The Continentals Beer Tent: Mike & Steve North Entrance: Yarina Children’s Entertainment Saturday, September 11 11:30 a.m. Airborne Jugglers 12:30 p.m. Mo The Clown 1:30 p.m. Airborne Jugglers 2:30 p.m. Magician B.J. Hickman 3:30 p.m. Airborne Jugglers 4:30 p.m. Wayne From Maine 5:30 p.m. Airborne Jugglers Sunday, September 12 11:30 a.m. Airborne Jugglers 12:30 p.m. Mo The Clown 1:30 p.m. Airborne Jugglers 2:30 p.m. Magician B.J. Hickman 3:30 p.m. Airborne Jugglers 4:30 p.m. Airborne Jugglers Other events: Hampton Rotary 5K Road Race: Saturday September 11; registration, 7 a.m. Fireworks: September 11, 8:15 p.m. presented by American Thunder Skydiving demonstrations by Skydive New England: Sunday, September 12, 4 p.m. at the beach Best of the Festival: winners named for Best Seafood, Best Non-Seafood, Best Lobster Roll, Best Dessert and more. 5 p.m. Seashell Stage Ongoing: Pat Whitley and culinary chef demonstrations, beachside For more information, call (603) 926-8718 or visit www.
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