Oysters, oysters and more oysters. That's what you'll find on the Arcata Plaza Saturday -- along with oyster eaters galore -- as Arcata Main Street presents their 20th Annual Oyster Festival. They'll have dozens of restaurants and local chefs preparing bivalves in all sorts of ways: grilled, fried and raw, supplemented with who knows what (we'll have to wait and see).
Why oysters? According to stats provided at a booth at O-Fest 2009, manned the Humboldt Bay Harbor and Recreation Commission, Humboldt Bay is the source for most of the oysters cultivated on the West Coast -- around 70 percent. The $11 million shellfish industry employs around 50 people directly, 50 more indirectly.
In an Arcata Main Street O-Fest press release, AMS Executive Director Jennifer Koopman tells us, "Oysters have been part of Humboldt's history for a very long time. A shell mound on Indian Island dates back 7,000 years."
While she's right about oysters being around for a long time, the shell mounds she's talking about are mostly clams and mussels. HBHRC notes that mussels and Manila clams are raised commercially in the bay along with oysters, although just for seed; they're not grown to market size.
There are native oysters, but they are not grown commercially -- the ones you'll be eating on the Plaza, predominantly Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas), were introduced to the West Coast from Japan in the early 1900s. Kumamoto oysters (Crassostrea sikamea), also from Japan, came later -- some time in the 1990s.
There are always at least a few non-oyster food options for anyone whose dietary restrictions exclude the tasty bivalves, or for those who simply do not like oysters. At last year's O-Fest Humboldt Cattlewomen had some fine grass-fed beef on the grill and the always-popular Smokin' Moses booth offered grilled prairie oysters (beef gonads) which weren't half bad once you smothered them in Mo's famous barbeque sauce.
In between o-noshing, you may want to stop by the stage by the flagpole for assorted entertainment. There's the wild display of gluttony, the Shuck & Swallow Contest at 10:30 a.m. where defending champs Conor Eckholm and Aidon Semingson will take on all comers in a rapid-fire display of oyster slaughter and consumption.
At 12:30 p.m. the dapper media personality Dave Silverbrand emcees the always-ironic Oyster Calling Contest. Around 3 p.m. they announce the winners for the Best Oyster Contest, a competition judged by local food experts (including yours truly... tough job).
The Kid's Zone, on 9th between H and I streets offers ocean and oyster related games and activities for younguns. The Farmers' Market moves around the corner to I Street by the Co-op.
Providing the musical soundtrack: a collection of bands, local and otherwise. Acacia Collective, an alt. country/rock band from San Francisco takes the stage at 11 a.m. The EastHum reggae band Woven Roots lays down the one drop at 1:30 p.m. and starting at 3:45, The Mother Hips wrap things up with a sunny splash of rock they call "California soul." (See The Hum for details on various after-parties.)
It's all happening at Arcata Main Street's 20th Annual Oyster Festival on Saturday, June 19, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the Arcata Plaza. Since parking lots nearby fill early, off-site parking is available with free shuttle buses running to and from the Plaza every quarter hour or so from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Arcata High (1720 M St.), Humboldt State University (14th and Union sts.) and Samoa Blvd. (two blocks west of K St.). For more information, call Arcata Main Street at 822-4500, or got to **www.arcatamainstreet.com.