By Eric Wilson-Edge
This coming weekend thousands will descend on the Mason County Fairgrounds in Shelton for OysterFest. “You just have to come and see it. You may not like oysters but there’s other stuff,” says Darryl Cleveland, a member of the Shelton Skookum Rotary Club Foundation which has been putting on the annual event for 32 years.
Admission is cheap – only $5 per person. Once inside the gate you’ll find more than 60 vendors serving all manner of food and drink. “Nobody can duplicate somebody else,” says Cleveland. “You can have three people doing grilled shrimp but if you’ve got somebody doing a different sauce or grilling a different way then it’s okay.”
OysterFest has come a long way in three decades. The impetus for the festival was a desire to bring people to Mason County while simultaneously promoting the shellfish industry. The inaugural OysterFest ran for five hours and attracted six-thousand people. Says Cleveland, “we didn’t know what to expect. Who’s going to come to a festival in October that they know nothing about?”
The odd timing is due in part to weather patterns. Turns out the first week in October is generally sunny, but it wouldn’t matter. “People will stand out in the rain for scalded oysters or bacon wrapped oysters,” says Cleveland.
Or they could go inside and enjoy a show. There will be at least five stages featuring all kinds of entertainment from music to magicians and clowns. 17-year-old Josh Reese is a regular at OysterFest. “It’s a good place to hang out for the weekend.” He adds, “there are a lot of interesting people and it brings a lot of business to Shelton.”
Cleveland says people come from all over, driving from Pierce and King counties as well as from Portland, Oregon.
The most popular attraction is undoubtedly the oyster shucking competition. OysterFest is home to the West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship. The competition runs on both days with speed being the primary goal of the first day. “You don’t care what it looks like,” says Cleveland. “The goal is to get it open.” Speed is still a factor on the second day. However, participants are docked points for things like cuts to the oyster.
I have a strong dislike for oysters. It feels like I’m trying to swallow my tongue. Cleveland laughs when I tell him. Needless to say I’ve never been to OysterFest. Still, I want to go this year. Oyster shucking is a unique skill akin to log rolling. It’s both serious and spectacle. I need to see it but I’ll stick with food I know – maybe a hot dog.
OysterFest runs Saturday, October 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, October 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking is free. Your $5 admission benefits scholarships for students in Mason County.