ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (WALA) – Disappointed about the cancelation of the National Shrimp Festival, the mayor here said he is planning a replacement event.
Citing the latest COVD-19 surge and the strain on hospitals, organizers announced last week they were pulling the plug on the popular event for the second year in a row.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said he is targeting the same weekend, albeit a scaled-back affair. Instead of running four days at the beach in Gulf Shores, the event will take place at the Wharf off of the Intracoastal Waterway. Kennon said it will take place at least on Oct. 9, a Saturday, and perhaps the following day, as well.
“Our goal is to make sure that we don’t let COVID or anything else dictate our lives, and we’re gonna have a one-day or two-day festival, whatever it takes,” he said.
Details are still emerging, but Kennon said he is shooting for 120 vendors and is inviting those who had planned to participate in the Shrimp Festival. He said the timing coincides with a Brooks & Dunn concert booked at the Wharf that same weekend.
From its humble beginnings almost five decades ago, the Shrimp Festival has risen to become one of the best-attended and economically important events at the Baldwin beach. Clayton Wallace, a spokesman for the Shrimp Festival committee, told FOX10 News that organizers very much wanted to go forward this year.
But Wallace said it is financially feasible only when huge numbers of people are packed closely together and that limiting crowds for a non-ticketed event is impractical.
“We decided to err on the side of caution, and it was a painful decision,” he said.
Organizers said many volunteers had expressed concerns about their health. They said they considered cancelations of other similarly large events, like the Hangout Fest and the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Wallace said planners also consulted with health care officials.
“We did speak with Medstar, with our EMS provider, and the hospital,” he said. “They indicated to us that they did not feel comfortable with a super-spreader event.”
Kennon rejected “super-spreader nonsense,” adding that he is confident that the event can be held safely.
“I believe we got to live our lives. We gotta move on,” he said. “The virus is deadly, and it’s real. And if you’re in that group or that demographic that’s at risk, you need to take precautions or probably get vaccinated. … COVID is with us for life. It ain’t going anywhere. So we’re just gonna have to learn to adapt to it and live with it.”
Beyond safety concerns, Kennon acknowledged the logistical challenge of planning a large event from scratch with just a few weeks of lead time.
“It’s a very tight turnaround,” he said. “But Orange Beach is an amazing community. I got people coming out of the woodwork right now, asking what can they do, how can they help? We’re gonna make it happen.”
Lynda Brookshire and Gilda Green were among those who had signed up to work the festival before its cancelation. They are part of a new Mardi Gras group that was going to work one of the beer tents.
Brookshire said her organization could have come up with additional volunteers if that was an issue.
“I wish they had put the call out to us, because we could have certainly helped them out,” she said. “We have a lot of people willing to volunteer, but we knew nothing of it until we saw it break on the news.”
Public health officials have expressed concerns about having large events, but Brookshire and Green said they believe it can be done safely – particularly outdoors.
“We’ve been vaccinated and boostered,” Green said. “We’ve done both.”
Brookshire pointed out that the Stone Mountain Yellow Daisy Festival outside of Atlanta drew a big crowd over the weekend.
“So how does that go on? How do we have the Wharf having concerts?” she said. “We have football games, but we can’t have a small festival on the beach. Doesn’t seem right.”
The two women said they wish Kennon luck. But they added that it probably is too late for them to reorganize a volunteer contingent from their group.
“I think we’ve already disbanded everybody, and that’d be kind of hard to do,” Brookshire said.