Mark Bolton remembers back when the Great Ogeechee Seafood Fest was still a new idea.
Bolton, vice president of communications, marketing and economic development for Coastal Electric Cooperative, is also a longtime member of the Bryan County Exchange Club, one with roots as deep as any when it comes to the festival.
“It may have been the experience when we were preparing for the first seafood festival down at the Bryan Fisherman’s Cooperative,” Bolton said in an email, referring to the original 1985 event. “The Exchange Club members were over at David Aspinwall’s house at Mill Hill and we were testing the Geechee Shrimp Gravy recipe. We started with a large pan on the stove. Harry Brigdon walked by and thought the gravy was too thin so he added a bunch of flour. Then a few minutes later (former Richmond Hill Mayor) Richard Davis looked and thought the gravy was too thick so he added water. And that continued back and forth a few times till the pan was overflowing with brown gravy. It began to look like something out of a horror movie that could have been “The Glob that Ate Richmond Hill.” There may have been some alcohol involved. I can’t be sure.”
Here are some more recollections from those who’ve been around the Festival awhile.
Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter harkens back to the 1980s and the Co-op for one of his fondest memories of the event.
“I remember a really good band, perhaps it was the Tams, playing, and everyone doing their best Shag dancing,” Carpenter said. “Docked at the co-op was the UGA research vessel, the Georgia Bulldog, which you could tour. Also that year, Roland Harrison and his wife Eleanor were working the VFW booth. Mr. Roland, picking up Eleanor from the booth, almost drove their super-long Lincoln into the booth, then locked the keys in the car. Mrs. Eleanor gave him a severe reprimand as she fished her keys from her pocketbook. After a hiatus, of course, the festival moved to JF Gregory Park. More recent memories include the years that .38 Special played, and also Collective Soul one year. Both were really crowd pleasers. Also, the fried gator tail booth was always a favorite. Sometimes I wondered if it was really gator tail, since it tasted so much like chicken.”
Larry Baker recalled the year Gregg Allman played the festival in 2002.
“My wife Linda was the Seafood Fest chair that year,” he said in an email. “She sent Gregg four requests in a letter format to please contact her and consider playing, as he had recently moved to Richmond Hill. After the second letter, with no response, she put on the third letter at the top in giant bold letters, ‘THIRD REQUEST!!!!!’ Nothing. Crickets No response from him, so she sent Gregg a fourth letter, and at the top put “FOURTH REQUEST!!!!!!!!!,” in giant and even bolder letters at the top of the page.”
That worked, Barker said. “He personally called Linda a week later and said, ‘you are the most damned persistent woman I have ever met! Yes, I will play with my band and we will do it gratis.’” The concert rocked, Baker said.
“Approximately 12,000 people showed up the night he played. It was standing room only in front of that stage and this was the first year we did fireworks. Gregg ended his show with his hit Midnight Rider with the fireworks going off. What a night to remember.”
One of Richmond Hill Seafood Festival Organizing Committee’s honorary “co-chairmen” this year, Bonnie Proctor, spent 20 years working on the festival as a volunteer.
Her favorite memory is “the first year we did the special needs event. A mother came up to me and explained how much it meant to the entire family because they were able to attend a carnival for the first time ever. Many members of the committee standing there with tears running down their face,” Proctor said.
And then, there was “the first year we charged $1 for all who entered, including the committee and volunteers! That’s how we counted admissions,” Proctor said. “And one year we had the carnival in the middle of the park. The Ferris wheel was in the trees and it disturbed a swarm of bees. Gene Brogden to the rescue, shooing them away.”
There was also “meeting Charlie Daniel!,” Proctor added. “And working with a unique group of people, many who have become family, to pull off such a fun and profitable event.”
Rich DeLong said the event is special to him because it made so many people feel good.
“As a former chairman of the board of directors for the Chamber, I have many fond memories of the Seafood Festival,” said DeLong, who recently retired and now lives in Florida. “The great entertainment, food and, most of all, the community spirit is second-to-none. The amazing work and effort by so many volunteers is beyond measure. I believe what really made this a special event for me was experiencing all the good feelings and joy shared by so many people; and then to see a good portion of the money raised go back to the community and civic organizations after the event is over. The Seafood Festival is a real hometown, smalltown, fun-for-all ‘Treasure’ of Richmond Hill.”
It’s also one of the reasons soldiers on Fort Stewart and Hunter enjoy the area, according to Patrick Young, a former Army officer and now editor of The Frontline, the 3rd Infantry Division newspaper.
“Military life isn’t easy, but the Great Ogeechee Seafood festival is among the outstanding community activities Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield out there for soldiers and their families every year,” Young said. “One of my favorite was In 2008 - eating fresh fried shrimp, drinking cold ice tea and watching an outstanding performance by Charlie Daniels as he melted the strings from his fiddle playing The Devil went down to Georgia.”