The Yarmouth Clam festival, held yearly in Yarmouth, ME, has been a summertime tradition since 1965 Each year for the last 55 years, more than a score of non-profit groups volunteer thousands of hours to make this festival happen. Enjoyed a long weekend that included Friday night parades, fireworks on Saturday, food, music, arts & crafts shows, races, and much more! The fun started on Friday at 10:00 AM and runs through Sunday. This event was fun for all ages. There were a 5 mile road race, a clam shucking contest, a muster competition, a kids’ race, even a diaper derby!
It’s been three years since the last time Mainers were able to attend the Yarmouth Clam Festival, but the beloved event is back for the 57th time, and organizers couldn’t be happier.
“With the nice weather, guaranteed we’re going to have a good crowd,” said Chelsie DiConzo, the festival’s interim director before festival had started
The festival was going on from July 15 to 17th featuring booths with typical town fair food offerings, amusement park rides, and exhibits by local artists, but had to take the past two years off because of coronavirus concerns.
On Wednesday afternoon, however, it was obvious that organizers were primed for a busy and fun weekend. Just outside the William H. Rowe School, the ball field had been converted into a full-blown carnival, complete with brightly colored Ferris wheel and carousel. Watching over the final stages of preparation there was Jeanette Gilmore, owner of Smokey’s Great Shows, which is providing the amusements. She said she has been with the company for 39 years, and helped organize amusements at the festival for 37 years, but her company has missed out on a lot of events since March of 2020.
“It was great to be back. It had been a long two years without working,” she said.
Gilmore said the temporary amusement park had a slightly smaller footprint this year because of a labor shortage. Usually, she said, there were about 55 seasonal workers who return every summer, but this year there were only 20 available to assist with the approximately 17 rides and 12 food vendors. The latter were offering everything one would expect from a town fair, from sausages to fried dough to pizza to lemonade.
“The overhead was big, but it was worth it anyway,” she said. “This was probably the biggest festival in the state of Maine.”
Just down the street from the ballfield, in the memorial green, Giz Daniels, owner and operator of IZ Sound, was setting up a stage and amplifiers under a large tent in preparation for free live music. A longtime local resident, he said he has been providing sound for the festival for about 12 years. He said he understood why the festival needed to be canceled for the past two years, but he was looking forward to seeing it back this year.
“I’m hoping there’ll be a pretty good turnout,” he said.
DiConzo said the cancellations in 2020 and 2021 were disappointing for fans of the festival, but it was even harder for the approximately 30 different local nonprofits who benefit from it.
“The nonprofits missed out on two years of solid fundraising,” she said.
Near the tent where Daniels was setting up his audio, there was a collection of temporary food vendor booths built out of whitewashed wood and arranged in an arc, each with a sign bearing the name of one of the nonprofits that would be selling more fair-friendly food items. Roger Snow, 80, a volunteer with the Yarmouth Lions Club, was hanging heat lamps at his club’s booth, which he said was planning to sell French fries, haddock fingers, crab cakes, fried shrimp and “Lemon Lucy” drinks, a kind of lemonade slush drink.
“We’re just hoping for a banner year,” he said.
Snow said the local Lions Club has been operating a booth selling something at every Yarmouth Clam Festival since the annual event began in 1965. Snow declined to say how much money the club typically made, only saying, “We do very well.” He said nonprofits like his scrambled over the past two years to organize other fundraising events, such as yard sales and raffles.
“We’re looking forward to it. It’s our biggest fundraiser,” he said.
While local businesses do not have booths at the festival itself, eateries such as the Gather restaurant, located just a few hundred feet from the memorial green, also benefit from foot traffic.
“We’re super-stoked. We’re glad it’s back,” said Mimi Weissenborn, the restaurant’s chef/manager.
The restaurant first opened in 2012. Weissenborn said the festival’s benefits to her business are obvious, but she noted the boost she expected this weekend will help more than just her restaurant.
“It’s good for everybody, because we’re pulling more from our (local) farmers, so it’s good for them,” she said.
Perhaps more important than that, she said, was that despite the crowds it draws from all over the state, the festival is still at its heart a local event, and she enjoyed the local buzz the event generates.
“It’s something the community really gathers around,” she said.
The Clam Festival is proud of its wide-ranging collaboration of music from local and regional artists. Over 40 musical acts and entertainers perform on two main stages including Joseph Gallant, Toby McAllister and the Sierra Sounds, The Faculties, Onward, Fight at the Family Picnic, local artist Sarah patil.
The Festival mascot Steamer the Clam was created in 2004, and the human inside the shell is a well-kept secret.The Clam Festival used to be the Firemen’s Field Day, and the Firefighter’s Muster is a well-preserved and well-loved part of that tradition.