Phew. I finally found some time to sit down and wrap my head around Oyster Fest and just in time: I believe my clothes have finally dried out. It was a one of the wettest 36 hours we’ve had all summer (despite the entire soaking month of June) and of course, it had to fall during the set up and timing of the farm’s biggest party.
The rain didn’t deter the tents from going up (there were delays but they eventually went up) or the rock star committee from getting the bones of the event put together on Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, we woke up to a deluge that tapered off to a windless drizzle and eventually dry skies. The morning was productive, though. With dozens of volunteers plus the tent, lighting and sound crews, the world of Oyster Fest slowly took shape. Committee member Brenda Henriquez and I were busy getting the chef’s stations set up and all of the decorations pulled together (entirely Brenda’s doing and it looked fantastic) while Nancy Bennett and her crew hung the signs. (Her crew included Billy and their grandson Joe who suffered a minor thumb injury and missed the entire party — never run with scissors!)
The morning was a blur but the chefs started to arrive and things quickly moved into high gear. They rolled in one by one: Chris Schlesinger’s sous chef Eric from East Coast Grill with the Caja China (stuffed to the brim with Gourmet — see the story of it below); Jamie Bissonnette of Toro with his pig portioned and wrapped in foil; Louie DiBicarri and Ian Grossman from Sel de la Terre who were full of hugs and big smiles; Jody Adams and her team; B&G’s Stephen Oxaal; Solstice’s John Cataldi with a solar powered-oven; Nick Dixon from Lucky’s Lounge; and Tony Maws from Craigie on Main with his adorable son Charlie in tow. By now the tent and everything around it was shrouded in an incredible fog and I got a call from Will Gilson who was turned around and had traveled halfway out to Saquish before turning around to find us. Jackson Cannon arrived with his bar set up and two super quick helpers from Eastern Standard. Jasper White rolled in around 2 and gave me a big hug before pulling on his chef’s jacket. The jackets, made by Shannon Reed, matched the signs and the motif . Aside from one small typo (sorry, Jeremy), the chefs really seemed to like them.
Suddenly, I looked up and it was 3:15. The party had started and guests were rolling by. The first hour was filled with families and little kids who were crawling all over the Kids Zone but before I knew it, 4 pm arrived and the beer taps were open. The chefs, picking up cues from the ravenous crowd, started putting out their food earlier than scheduled, which was fine for Skip and I who found ourselves snacking behind the tables once or twice (but probably not for the people in line).
Around 5, the VIP tent opened and folks started trickling in, eager to try Seth and Angela Raynor’s “oyster crack” (aka: green love), Chris Schlesinger’s Peking roast pork, Jody’s scallops in crazy water, and Jasper White’s razor clam ceviche. Jackson was just getting started with 4 different Grey Goose cocktails when I snuck away to check out the rain situation at 5:30. Consensus? It was a downpour. It would taper on and off but never fully let up until well past midnight (the upside was that we had more than a few fantastic lightning displays). But the troops, all 3,000 of them, carried on unphased. Between the space under the main tent and the confines of the beer tent, most people stayed pretty dry.
I ran over to the main tent a few times to find my crew working their butts off behind the raw bar. The Andys, Will, Greg, Catie, Eva, and Pops were volunteering, Maggie had her art on display (again, more on that below), and we even had an appearance from Quinn in the form of many (many) phone calls.
Our shucking contest culminated with the finals which were up on stage at 9 (I jumped up to time one of the contestants) and wouldn’t you know it, our old friend Chopper won the prize. By then, the crowd was in full swing with the Heavyweights on stage and oysters disappearing like hotcakes. The VIP tent almost took on an open door policy (which Jackson handled remarkably well considering he and his crew were weeded for a good hour) and folks in the main tent were dancing up a storm. I made it to the side of the stage for the last few songs, including one killer performance of “Don’t Stop Believing.”
I ended the Fest sitting on stage in an empty tent with Dave, Nicole, Shore, Skip, and a few others surveying the damage. I had a huge grin on my face and a sigh of relief. It was all behind us and despite a rainy night, we’d survived it.
There was, of course, the inevitable after party at CJ’s house which
involved a kickass DJ and several kegs of Harpoon.
I rolled into bed around 4:30 that morning all amped up and psyched to spend the next few days reflecting on our successes (and few failures), reminiscing about the party, and hearing how everyone else perceived the night.
Now, to the story of the pig. The plan was to give Chris Schlesinger his pig on Saturday morning at the Fest. But Friday afternoon, I got a phone call that went something like this:
Chris: Hey Erin, I have a few questions for you … (two easy questions followed)… and now here’s the hard one. Is there any way we could get our pig delivered into the city today?
Erin: (Pause.) Hmmm. Well. I guess it wouldn’t be… impossible (internal freakout).
Chris: Because, I have to say, knowing that she’s 125 pounds and considering all of the logistics, we really want to get her up here and have a look at her. We’d really like to get to know her a little better, if that makes sense.
Erin: Sure, of course Chris. I totally understand. Let me make a few phone calls and get back to you (more internal freaking).
I pick up the phone, call Matthew, call Berg, call Shore… outcome did not look good. Finally, Matthew agrees to pick up the pig at the butcher in Bridgewater, bring her back to the shop and the plan was I would load her into my Honda Civic (yes, a Civic) and drive her up to Boston around 4 that afternoon.
I head down to the Festival site to start setting up and get a call from Matthew: he and the pig are almost back at the shop, do I want to meet them there? Yes, I said. Be there in 5 minutes *to drive the pig up to Boston.*
Just then, my old friend (and new favorite) Cory shows up and tells me that he is driving one of the vans up to Boston to help Maggie pick up her art in time for the Festival. Would you be able to drop off a pig, I ask? He hemmed and hawed (understandably) and finally said: Yes, Pain. I’ll drive your pig to Boston.
Later that night, I get a text from Maggie: Can I have your email address? Sure, I replied with the address. This is what I received in return:
Along with a note from Maggie:
“So we are going to pick up my paintings and had to deliver a pig on the way. It was quite the site! Crowds were forming. We just got paintings into truck. Success. En route home.”
When I got the message, I happened to be at the Winsor House with Shore, Skip, and Matthew who got an enormous kick out of the photo. Cory was obviously the hero of the night (and if I haven’t thanked you enough, Cory, I owe you big time).
It was just one of the many, many examples of the number of helping hands it took to put this thing together. As Shore said early in the day on Saturday, “Can you believe how many people are working to make this event happen right now?” It was remarkable. We are incredibly fortunate to have had so many people interested in working towards this goal. We raised a huge amount of money for the Island Creek Oysters Foundation and it really was a pleasure to be a part of it all.
And… so… Now what?
I got to the farm this morning after a short day off yesterday and found the harbor eerily empty. It was about 50 degrees and I could taste that crisp bite of Fall. The effects of the party are still heavy in the air (and so are the stories, which keep revealing themselves) but I’m happy to have it behind us — and ready for the summer to fade out slowly.