September 2010

September 2010: OUR TOWN - Seafood Jazz And Brew

Author: David Tobias

If you can’t be everything to everyone, then just expand the range of what you are. That might seem simple, but it appears to be working for Hilton Head Island’s Seafood, Jazz and Brew Festival, now in its third year.

For those with discriminating palettes, it doesn’t have to be all about seafood, which is bountiful around the time of this event—September 13-18. Certainly, there are those who prefer pop or blues to jazz, and that’s okay too. Hilton Head is an equal opportunity entertainment island.

But who doesn’t like beer?

Which may be why event producer Ann-Marie Adams, executive director of the Hilton Head Hospitality Association, calls the craft brew portion the “common denominator.”

That said, Seafood, Jazz and Brew is not a “beer-for-all.” In fact, the secret to its success may be what it’s not.

“You don’t get lost in a large hall with lots of beer being flung around,” said Adams. “We probably serve as much as a lot of big beer fests spill in a weekend, but we like it that way and we don’t want to be spilling beer—craft beers are precious.”

Seafood, Jazz and Brew draws visitors from a three-to five-hour drive radius, including Columbia, Atlanta and Charlotte, and is a week long reason to visit Hilton Head Island at a beautiful time of year. It’s also a chance for restaurants, resorts and retailers to welcome guests in a low-key, jazzy sort of way.

One of the great things about a 12-mile by 5-mile island with more than 250 restaurants, great public parks and retail venues with waterside ambience, is that there are plenty of places to stage an event like this. While the concentrated portion of the week’s events takes place on Friday and Saturday, many restaurants and pubs work the theme into their regular schedule, featuring seafood, tastings and specialty beers throughout the week.

The Jazz Corner is right at home in the middle of this theme, and proprietors Bob and Lois Masteller have stacked the lineup with regional favorites. A Delta Blues and Bayou tribute takes place on Monday; Tuesday will be New Orleans Hot Jazz; The Earl Williams Blues Quartet will perform Wednesday; Lavon and Louise take the stage on Thursday, and the Kevin Bales Trio, from Atlanta are featured on Friday and Saturday. Kevin Bales for two nights straight is a coup, according to Masteller.

“He lights the place up,” said Masteller of Bales. “He’s a fabulous young guy, enormously talented, one of our favorites and probably one of the top five jazz pianists around these days.”

Every Jazz Corner performance includes two sets, the first beginning at 8 p.m. with dinner included, and the second starting at 9:45. Dinner reservations are required.

Double-dipping in the jazz arena is possible Friday night when the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra hosts Jazz at the Park in the early evening at Shelter Cove Community Park. Tickets are $20 each and children are admitted free. This year, Howard Paul, who Masteller describes as masterful on the seven-string Benedetto guitar, will play as part of a quintet, backed by the full orchestra.
Which all leads up to the main event: tasting craft beers at Shelter Cove Harbour on Saturday afternoon from 2 to 6 p.m.

There are several ways in which to do this, the most efficient being to buy a $30 Men Drinking Beer ticket for unlimited tastings, early admission (11:30 a.m. instead of 2 p.m.), free food and a 25-oz commemorative stein etched with an “MDB” logo, making you the envy of all your friends. The odd thing about Men Drinking Beer, though, is that it’s not a gender-exclusive club—somehow $30 creates cross-gender equality.

Plan B is to buy the scaled down tasting ticket for $20, enabling you to taste-test 10 beers and keep the tasting glass. Additional tasting tokens are available onsite for $1 apiece. Either way, tasters get to vote on their favorites, and “Best Beer on the Harbour” will be announced late Saturday afternoon.

Credit the rapid growth of the craft beer phenomenon for heightened interest in festivals like Seafood, Jazz and Brew.

“The whole industry of craft brews is really, really, really on fire,” said Bob Prust, who can be excused hyperbole because this subject is near and dear to his heart. Prust owns Growlers Craft Beer and Ales, a craft beer tastings and retail store on Hilton Head Island, which is a co-sponsor of this year’s Seafood, Jazz and Brew, along with The Lodge and Growler Bar on the south end.

Prust cites two pieces of recently passed state legislation for enabling the business to grow quickly in South Carolina. The first law, passed in 2008, allowed the sale of high-alcohol content beer and the second made beer tastings legal in retail outlets.

More than 30 craft brew vendors have pre-registered for tent space at Shelter Cove Harbour for the beer tastings on Saturday, with each likely to bring between two and four beer varieties. These will include some of the more creatively named beers with fanciful stories to match.

Dogfish Head’s Theobroma (translated “food of the gods”) is one example. The brewers claim this “beer” is based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras, which revealed the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink used by early civilizations to toast special occasions. Dogfish calls it a “liquid time capsule.”

Be careful, chocolate lovers, alcohol by volume is 9 percent.

Speaking of dogs, events on Saturday include a “Bark for Your Beer” not-so-silent auction, sponsored by the Hilton Head Humane Society. Seafood also is celebrated Saturday afternoon with an oyster shucking contest for amateurs and professionals. Cash prizes and a “golden bucket” traveling trophy will be awarded. Home brew demonstrations are also planned, and the Westin Resort is sponsoring a “Heavenly Man-Cave,” also not gender exclusive.

Success of the event may take a variety of forms, but mostly will be measured in visitors’ reaction to the experience, according to Masteller.

“When people go back across the bridge talking about how they’ve been to a really enjoyable event, an event they’ll put on their calendars for next year, that’s what we’re aiming for—not just the beer, not just the jazz, but the whole thing,” he said.

“And part of it is just plain luck. If we get the right weather, we’re all geniuses.”

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