They bounced back after a hurricane but couldn’t avoid the
sucker punch of the coronavirus pandemic.
But in 2021, one year after the Florida Seafood Festival was
shut down for the first time in its nearly 60-year history, it will be back
again, alive and well in Apalachicola, Nov. 5, 6 and 7, for the 58th annual
“Just like everything else, you have to take the days as
they come,” said John Solomon, president of the 12-member volunteer board of
directors. “We’ll keep a close eye on everything.”
Despite a recent surge in summertime COVID-19 infections, no
one is expecting there will be any lockdowns or crowd limitations, as there was
last year, when the only event remaining on the schedule was a symbolic
Blessing of the Fleet at Riverfront Park on Friday afternoon, the traditional
start of the three-day festival.
What the festival organizers are hoping for is a warm reception
for a comparatively unknown, but highly regarded songwriter, who is branching out
from gospel to make it in Nashville as a performing artist.
Drew Parker, originally from Covington, Georgia. will take
the stage Saturday, Nov. 6 as the festival headliner, not long after another
comparatively young performer, EMI Records Nashville’s Kylie Morgan, performs a
90-minute set, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
And those two top performers will follow a local appearance
by Franklin County’s own homegrown Ashley Carroll, who now performs as the
leader of the Ashley Morgan Band. She’ll take the stage for a one-hour set
beginning at about 5 p.m., and deliver a performance that may remind locals of
the tiny Brown Elementary School singer who once belted out the National Anthem
at Veterans Day shows, and who now, together with her bandmate and fiancé, bass
player Adam Carswell, is rocking the music scene in and around where they live
in Montgomery, Alabama.
“I’m hoping one day we say she’s our opening act,” Solomon
said. “I’d love to have a local be our headliner.”
The poised young high school beauty who will reign over the
festival, Miss Florida Seafood Festival, is expected to be selected at a
pageant at the Chapman Auditorium later this month. She could be from anywhere
in the county, just like Ashley Morgan’s mother, the former Link McWhinnie, was
when in 1989 she became one of the first queens to hail from Carrabelle. Solomon said in light of the cancellation last year, pageant organizers are considering allowing members of the Class of 2021 to take part his year.
As is typically the case, Christian music will be featured
on the main stage on Friday afternoon, the day in which the $5 admission fee is
On Saturday morning, right about the same time, at 10 a.m.,
when the gates at Battery Park are swinging open, the giant parade will weave
its way down U.S. 98, once again raining beads and candy down on the spectators
lining the streets.
Later that afternoon, the traditional oyster shucking and
oyster eating contests will be back, with the shucking featuring a return by the
2019 winner, Honor Allen, from Hunt’s Oyster Bar in Panama City. Allen went on
to take the U.S. National Shucking Championship in St. Mary’s County, Maryland
at a competition held virtually last year.
Solomon said he anticipates attendance could be back to the
roughly 20,000 average for the festival pre-pandemic.
He said rebounding from the pandemic changed the whole
dynamic of finding a suitable country artist, with many acts not available due
to being committed to other venues as soon as the lockdowns were lifted.
While Parker and Morgan are not household names, like a Travis
Tritt who performed a few years back, they are highly regarded, up-and-coming,
and could be the sort of surprise that a skyrocketing Lee Brice brought to the
festival not too many years ago.
In Nashville’s famous songwriting community, the talent runs
deep, and there’s no shortage of hopeful artists looking to find themselves a “lane.”
But with one of the most potent, identifiable styles in the business, Drew
Parker knows exactly what he’s about – and country fans already love it. Some
just don’t know it yet.
Signed with Warner Music Nashville, Parker got his start
singing gospel, and has the awards to prove his mastery of that. Educated as an
X-ray technician, he moved from pizza and beer joints near his hometown, to a
publishing deal he signed four years ago, with RiverHouse/WarnerChappell. He is
a co-writer on Luke Combs’ debut platinum record “This Ones For You,” and Jake
Owen’s single “Homemade” which became a #1 last year. Songs like “1,2 Many,”
(featuring Brooks & Dunn), “Forever After All,” “Nothing Like You” and
“Lonely One” helped define the historic start to Combs’ career.
Parker released a stand-alone single in 2016 (“Slow Down
Small Town”), and a four-song collection followed in 2018, and then in 2020, he
released an extended play recording “While You’re Gone.”
A native of Newcastle, Oklahoma, singer-songwriter Kylie
Morgan released her music independently in her early teens, and at age 16, was
named “Who New To Watch” by the Country Music Association. She moved to Nashville
when she turned 19, and the SMACKSongs team signed her to their roster. She has
toured with artists including Dan + Shay, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Gavin
DeGraw, Brett Eldredge and Billy Currington, and this year is opening for Jon
Pardi, Kip Moore, Devin Dawson, Lady Antebellum, Carly Pearce, and more. Kylie
is also in the studio working on her debut album.