Seafood Fest Returns: Helping by Having a Good Time
Author: Becca Edwards | Photographer: Michael Hrizuk
A festival, by definition, is a celebration. It can honor a person, a place, a culture or maybe a season. The Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival, March 3-5, celebrates all the above—and then some. “The Seafood Festival started out as the David M. Carmines Water Festival in 2004,” said festival organizer and Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks general manager Andrew Carmines. “The first year was a kayak festival, fishing tournament, and culminating event at Hudson’s. Two hundred and fifty people attended, and the original idea was to raise money for cancer research and to host an outdoor activity, because David was really into being outside and kayaking.” David is Andrew’s brother who died from cancer in 2001. I, like many Hilton Head Islanders, remember David, his charismatic smile and curls, and his inaugural memorial event.
And like many locals, I have watched this festival develop into something we, as a community, should be proud of—for many reasons.
“I remember from my childhood in the ’80s here on Hilton Head—a seafood festival in the spring—and I wanted to bring it back; but at the same time, I didn’t want it to be a cookie-cutter festival. I wanted to make an effort to be authentic and to celebrate this area, its maritime heritage and its people,” Carmines explained.
“We have a bunch of fun small events on the island, but we wanted to organize something that drew a regional crowd and portrayed life in the Lowcountry,” said Clayton Rollison, the chef and owner of Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar. Rollison joined festival forces with Carmines in 2014, and since then, the two have continued to stir into the mix other notable chefs, food vendors and epicurean events.
“Seafood Fest will always be a charitable event, because each of the charities it benefits are worthy of our attention. But it’s our hope that people say, ‘What a great event’ not ‘What a great charity event’ year-after-year,” Carmines said.
“Plus,” interjected Rollison, “the island is at a tipping point. Second generations are moving back here and starting or taking over family businesses. These people have traveled and worked abroad, and they are bringing these ideas and experiences and executing them at a high level here. We want this event to reflect that.”
Nodding, Carmines added, “We will continue to expand this event each year, but not at the expense of quality. Quality is key here. Imagine someone sitting in the mountains of Tennessee and trying to plan a vacation. We want them to pick Hilton Head Island over say St. Simons Island because of Seafood Fest.”
As Rollison and Carmines then roll out the lineup for this year, I have to admit I started to not only salivate, but also feel a sense of pride for my hometown. For the kick-off event—Beefsteak Madness—Thursday, March 3 from 5 to 8 p.m., at Sunset Landing at Skull Creek Boathouse, be prepared to ditch your vegan friends, loosen your belt and possibly wear a bib. We’re talking bourbon, beer, wine and live music. We’re talking hearty sides. And we’re talking meat, meat and more meat—from slow-cooked brisket to house-made charcuterie. That same evening, you can also board the Tammy Jane (shrimp trawler) at 5:30 p.m. from Hudson’s and enjoy local libations and a Lowcountry boil.
“I’m most excited about Friday night,” Rollison said, as he and Carmines look at each other “food-tuitously” (or a word I just invented that means that magic moment when two foodies look at each other and know something food-tastic is about to happen). “That’s the oyster roast and pig picking. It will be at Honey Horn (at 5:30 p.m.). “We have five pit masters making pig their way. From professionals to local virtuosos, we will be serving a variety of items,” Carmines continued, using a term I have never heard before but will never forget. “From the rooter to the tooter, we will have it all.” Service Brewery is sponsoring this event, and you can count on live music and wine from Trinchero, which according to Rollison is the largest privately owned single family estate in California. “To get them to come here and believe in what we have created is huge,” Rollison said.
The finale event, or what our bellies might deem the culinary coup de grâce, is Saturday, March 5 at the Shelter Cove Community Park. This family-friendly event features seafood specialties, a kids’ zone, a silent auction, crab races, crafts booths and more. Local favorite restaurants including Red Fish, Poseidon Coastal Cuisine, Skull Creek Boathouse, The Crazy Crab, Black Marlin, The Old Oyster Factory and of course Carmines’ and Rollison’s restaurants Hudson’s and Lucky Rooster (respectively) will be participating.
These events also reflect a food movement that both Carmines and Rollison are passionate about—and no it is not the farm-to-table concept. After all, that would be too cliché for these foodie renegades. “I’m going to try not to get on a soap box here, but Seafood Fest also promotes something both Clayton and I are committed to,” Carmines said. “In our own restaurants, we make every effort to buy and source locally,” said Carmines, who also started Shell Ring Oyster Company and is harvesting the island’s first signature single-select oysters. He begins to list all the reasons why Hilton Head’s ecosystems are unique and why the Lowcountry is worth celebrating. “If I have to work three times harder to ensure quality, I’m going to do it. I appreciate where I am from, and I feel obligated to give back.”
Rollison with the apt one-liner added, “We just can’t keep making withdrawals; we have to deposit.”
Here’s where the Seafood Festival encompasses much more than a three-day celebration. As was the vision of the David M. Carmines Foundation from inception, death has the ability to bring to life what’s truly important. As Carmines said so succinctly, “The Seafood Festival is an event that helps people by having a good time.”