Consider the stats: 28 food booths, 22 music acts, over 120 arts and crafts vendors, and typically more than 150,000 patrons over two days. When it comes to visiting the Oyster Festival, the key is to have a plan.
Here are five things not to be missed.
1. WATCH THE OYSTER SHUCKING & EATING CONTESTS
If you like the thrill of being amazed and disgusted at the same time, head to the West End Stage at 2 p.m. Saturday to witness the oyster shucking and eating contests.
"People like the excitement," says contest judge David Relyea of Frank M. Flower & Sons shellfish company. "It's free to enter, but our contestant slots fill up quickly."
People chant, "SHUCK! SHUCK! SHUCK!" as the shuckers move as fast as they can. But during the eating contest, people tend to step back and hold their breath, hoping no one gets sick.
2. SEE THE JOHN J. HARVEY FIREBOAT
Stepping aboard the John J. Harvey fireboat, one thing is apparent -- this is not a boring vessel. "Kids want to watch us shoot water," says co-captain Huntley Gill. "We do it every hour on the hour. It's hugely fun."
The boat served the FDNY from 1931 to 1994 and is said to be one of the most powerful fireboats ever in service. The Harvey even assisted in the evacuation on Sept. 11, 2001, pumping water on site for 80 hours.
Guests will meet Captain Bob Lenney, who will explain how the wheelhouse works with all the telegraphs. Meanwhile, the engineers will show off the 600-horsepower diesel engines that pump 18,000 gallons of water a minute.
3. BROWSE ARTS AND CRAFTS
With more than 120 craft vendors, the Oyster Festival's arts-and-crafts marketplace offers handmade items ranging from jewelry to stained glass to pottery to woodworking.
"I know what it takes to have a good show," says coordinator Mel Warren, who carefully balances the mix of vendor variety. "I look for creativity and honesty. There are some really talented people out there."
The horseshoe-shaped tented area is enclosed so people can peruse the crafts comfortably, no matter the weather.
4. TRY THE FRIED OYSTERS
In the venerable food court, undoubtedly the longest line will stem from the Mill River Rod & Gun Club's fried-
oyster booth. Every year it sells out early as patrons clamor for these mollusks (the booth often wins the fest's "people's choice" award).
"Many people come to the festival specifically for our fried oysters," says booth chairman Kenny Warren. "It's incredible."
The oysters are brought in from South Jersey and battered with a secret mix of flour and spices. But what makes the shellfish dish so tasty is the way it is prepared. "If you go to a restaurant, they will deep-fry them in baskets," explains Warren. "We cook ours on top of a hot electric grill and I think it makes a big difference."
For $8, you get half a dozen fried oysters with cocktail or tartar sauce. "We have people who stand on line for over an hour," says Warren. "They want those oysters!"
5. HEAR THE ELECTRIX
When the sun starts to go down on Saturday, everyone gets ready to kick back with the Electrix. The band's 4-6 p.m. set has become an Oyster Fest staple.
"The open-air atmosphere is conducive to having a good time. It lends itself to our music," says bassist Ray Kairys.
INFO 516-628-1625, theoysterfestival.org
GETTING THERE To avoid traffic, use the LIRR’s enhanced service to Oyster Bay. Parking with free shuttle buses is available at the Syosset train station and other spots in East Norwich, Bayville and Muttontown.