Get ready for the biggest weekend of the year, as thousands of visitors will flock to Franklin County for the 60th annual Florida Seafood Festival.
The weather is expected to be in the mid to high 70s, with no rain in sight, just plates full of oysters and shrimp and fair food.
The festival, organized by a volunteer board of directors as it has for six decades, will be open on Friday from 10 a.m., with no admission.
Shaylee to reign over Florida Seafood Festival
The descendant of one of the oldest and most seafood industry families in Franklin County, Shaylee Martina will reign over the 60th annual Florida Seafood Festival this weekend.
The 16-year-old Apalachicola native, daughter of Danielle and Steve James and the late Glenn Martina, was selected by three independent judges as part of a process that featured Zoom interviews. Isabella Nations was picked as first runner up, and Laelah Carranza as second reunion-up.
Martina, a junior at Port St. Joe High School, comes from a long line of Martinas who have fished the waters of Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. She is the granddaughter of Kathy and the late Alvin Martina, Billy and Serita Gay, and the late Adrian and Sue James, and the great-granddaughter of the Rev. Bonny and Dianne Ison.
Shaylee’s father Glenn, who passed away when Shaylee was in third grade, worked as an oysterman back when the bay was open, and did charter fishing out of Port St. Joe.
“I believe he would be proud of me,” said Shaylee. “I always thought it would be fun to hold that title and be a representation of the community. Such a small county like ours being able to put on a festival brings people from all around, to have a getaway weekend.”
Her cousin Brett Martina works as a charter captain, and he’s a former King Retsyo when his sister Brooke was festival queen.
Shaylee selected as her King Retsyo, and the board unanimously approved her choice, her stepfather Steve James, a lieutenant with the Franklin County Sheriff’s office.
Before he embarked on a career in law enforcement, James used to oyster and shrimp. For the past two years he’s had an oyster lease down at 9 Mile west of Apalachicola.
While there was no pageant this year, Shaylee would likely have performed a dance routine since she’s been dancing ever since she was 2, under the guidance of Apalachicola’s famed dance teacher, the late Pam Nobles. She continues to dance with the Forgotten Coast Performance Alliance.
“I remember being in the parade with Pam Nobles,” she said. “Last year was the first year where I ever got to watch the parade. I was always in it.”
At PSJHS, where she started in the middle of the last school year, she’s on the basketball cheer team that starts later this month and plans to become active in clubs.
Shaylee said that despite the downturn in the seafood industry, especially with the closure of Apalachicola Bay to wild oyster harvesting, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“We have the shrimp boats and the guys who go out on them pretty regularly,” she said. “And like my stepdad has, there are oyster farms,” she said. “They bring seeds to our bay and use our bay water to basically grow them, even though they’re not naturally from our bay.”
Shaylee plans to wear a variety of outfits as she reigns over the festival, all coming from her sponsor Southern Coast Lifestyle, newly opened by Kristina Hartsfield.
“I’m mostly excited to be at the festival and visit with all the people, and being a part of the whole thing itself,” she said. “My favorite thing was the blue crab race. I like to go and watch younger kids do it.”
While there won’t be any amusement park rides, and instead a host of elaborate bounce houses, Shaylee said she’s not fazed by their absence.
“When my parents were younger they don’t remember the rides so much,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s going to take that much away from it. I think everybody’s going to have a great time.
“It’s a great experience. The arts and crafts booths are always a great time to relax and spend time with family,” she said. “You get to enjoy some of the best fresh seafood and it’s very, very good and local as well.”
Blessing of the Fleet opens festival
The formal opening is in the afternoon with local clergy taking part in the Blessing of the Fleet, with Miss Florida Seafood Shaylee Martina, and King Retsyo Steve James arriving aboard a shrimp boat at 4 p.m.
The fairgrounds at Battery Park will begin bustling until the park closes at 10:30 p.m. There will be a host of nonprofit groups serving up fresh seafood along Food Row, augmented by an array of more typical fair food vendors.
Friday night’s entertainment will focus on Christian music, with Rachael Lampa the headliner on Friday, and Elvie Shane the festival headliner on Saturday evening.
The hardiest of the festivalgoers will take in the Redfish Run Saturday morning, with registration starting at 7 a.m. on the front steps of Gibson Inn.
The gates open at 10 a.m., with $5 admission, and children under 12 free. At the same time the enormous parade starts along Highway 98.
No pets are allowed in the festival with the exception of service animals, with the board of directors asking all patrons who have a service dog to please have “service” identification such as a leash or a harness.
“This is not a requirement but a request to avoid multiple directors stopping you and inquiring about your four-legged companion,” they wrote.
The Blue crab races, at the top of each hour are for children under 12. Adults can of course watch, or even take part in the 1 p.m. Oyster Shucking Contest and 1:15 p.m.: Oyster Eating Contest.
The music headliner Elvie Shane will take the stage at 8:30 p.m., with the park closing at 10:30 p.m.
Lampa, Shane both unconventional artists
A pair of unconventional artists, who took their own paths to musical success, are the featured artists at this year’s Florida Seafood Festival.
On Friday evening, when there is no admission charge to the 60th annual festival at Apalachicola’s Battery Park, singer and songwriter, Rachael Lampa, will take the stage.
At age 15, she rose to fame and critical acclaim in 2000 with the release of her debut album, “Live for You,” winning a Dove Award for the number one hit “Blessed.”
Since then she’s had multiple number one hits, seven albums, TV appearances, and years of touring with the top Christian and mainstream artists. She was invited to sing at World Youth Day in Rome with Luis Fonsi, a song she originally recorded as a duet with Aaron Neville for his record. She has also toured with Stacie Orrico, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Destiny’s Child, Boyz II Men, Michael W. Smith, Switchfoot, and TobyMac, among others.
At what seemed like the height of her career, at age 20, Lampa walked away from her record deal after spending most of her teen years on a tour bus.
Over the next few years, the Colorado-native-turned-Nashvillian continued to release music independently, appearing on NBC’s The Sing Off with other Nashville artists, and touring as a background singer with Jordin Sparks and later with Hozier.
During the pandemic, Lampa started to dream again and from what started as a conversation at a Bible study, new music was born. Her #1 song, Perfectly Loved, is a song inspired by both her inner-healing journey and her work in prison ministry with a non-profit founded and run by her family, People Loving Nashville.
In 2017, she began posting about working on new music and released a cover of the hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” In 2019, she released “Side of my Heart” and in 2022, she released “Perfectly Loved,” featuring TobyMac. The single has currently reached a peak position of 3 on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart.
She and her husband have two sons, Jackson, 7, and Leo Kai, 1.
On Saturday night, the headliner will be Elvie Shane, a country music singer signed with BBR Music Group. In 2020 he released his debut single “My Boy,” a breakout hit that topped the Billboard Country Airplay chart and went platinum less than two years after its release.
Born in Caneyville, Kentucky, where he grew up singing in his church, Shane briefly attended Western Kentucky University and began performing publicly in 2012, which led to him competing on American Idol in 2016. Although he was eliminated in the first round, he released multiple songs online including “County Roads” and “My Boy.”
His newest song, “Pill,” tackles the battle of addiction and the harrowing journey to recovery in the form of a letter to himself from his younger brother. “Pill” delivers a love letter to those struggling with addiction that perfectly illustrates what it means to be affected by its all-encompassing path of destruction.
“Pill is my story, told from the perspective of a note to me from my little brother in my most trying times. It’s an apology to those I love for the turmoil I put them through,” Shane said. ““But for me this goes way beyond just what my family and I have gone through. I want to be a vessel and share other people’s struggles and experiences, even if it helps one person, that means I did my job.”
Along with the track, Shane released a visualizer for “Pill,” welcoming those at any stage of recovery with the porch light on and the front door unlocked, reminding them it’s never too late to come back home.