“Freedom Festival” to replace the Gulf Coast National Shrimp Fest
COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across Alabama. Health care providers report that the number of hospitalizations appears to be declining. If that’s true, that’s the good news. The bad news along the Gulf Coast of Alabama is that it’s too late to save the National Shrimp Festival. The organizers of the Gulf Shores event canceled it for the second year in a row. The move left some area residents feeling like it was time for a celebration anyway.
The last time the Shrimp Festival was held in Gulf Shores was in 2019. The event drew around 300,000 people for a long weekend of music, art and, of course, seafood. Last year, the festival was canceled during the pandemic. Last month, the Gulf Coast Business Chamber announced that the threat was still too high to host an event that brought so many people in close contact. Some residents, however, felt this was not the last word on the matter. Orange Beach has announced that they will be hosting an event dubbed the “Festival of Freedom” this Saturday. This day was not chosen by chance.
“We are going to have a one day event on Saturday of the Shrimp Festival,” said Tony Kennon, Mayor of Orange Beach. “The sellers are extremely grateful that we are trying to do something for them and we hope to have around 80, maybe more. Volunteers introduce themselves. We just have an extremely strong force to continue to have it.
Kennon said the idea was popular with many residents and artists. He’s not sure what to expect, but his rough estimate is 12,000-20,000 for the one-day event. It might help that Brooks and Dunn perform that night at the same location, The Wharf in Orange Beach.
“The majority are the ones who were going to be at the Shrimp Festival,” Kennon said. “With such late notice, they really had nowhere to go. So, they were happy with the opportunity of at least a one-day event. It seems like a big community effort.
While COVID-19 didn’t get very far, Kennon said it was time to start moving forward and try to get back to normal.
“I want normalcy and we can’t keep canceling events every time there’s a variation, a fear or a push,” Kennon said. “We just can’t do it. It’s never going to go away. It is with us for life. You have to live with it. “
“It’s not like this is something we took lightly,” said Clayton Wallace, communications director for the National Shrimp Festival.
“It was with a very heavy heart that we had to do it, that we felt we had to cancel it but when we have so many of our volunteers,” Wallace said. “People don’t realize the number of our volunteers. We use about 1,500 volunteers somewhere, and many of those volunteers are 65 and over, people who, because they are retired, are more likely to have co-morbidities. They’re probably at a higher risk, and frankly we felt very uncomfortable asking people like that to come and volunteer.
Wallace said canceling the shrimp festival was not an easy decision and organizers waited to be sure it wouldn’t be safe.
“We looked at the COVID numbers and while we were pretty sure there would be a reduction in numbers by the time Shrimp Fest unfolded, we were still concerned that the numbers were so high, that the Baldwin County has remained a Red County as the transmission numbers disappear and after consulting our EMS teams, after consulting our local hospitals, we have just arrived. They were worried. They were concerned about the effects to have, the effects on their ability to handle things if we had the shrimp festival. And it was only after we consulted with them that we finally had to make the decision to cancel it, ”Wallace said.
The Shrimp Festival typically draws tens of thousands of visitors to a small area along the Gulf Shores Public Beach promenade. Wallace said they couldn’t socially distance themselves under these circumstances.
“We looked at potentially trying to implement COVID protocols, but we’re not a paid event so it’s not like we can put a number limit as anyone walking down the street can walk in. the festival and it created its own set of headaches. We wanted to have it. We really, really wanted to have it, ”Wallace said.
Organizing an event may not be safe in an area at high risk of infection. Dr Karen Landers is a regional health worker in the state health department. She said it covered all of Alabama, including Baldwin County.
“You’re really probably envisioning about 13% overall positivity in the community and that’s still a high rate and the way we define a high rate of community transmission is you really have well over 100 or more cases per 100,000,” so I think you’re really, again, looking at some pretty big numbers right now in Baldwin County, ”Landers said. “All that being said, it concerns me. “
She said outdoor events can still be a threat when people are crowded.
“Some of these things that I’ve seen people go to lately just go in pictures, people don’t even have 12 inches between them and, if they do, then masks definitely need to be added because you don’t. don’t have the distance there, “said Landers.” You have even though with the humidity, the heat and the wind currents you still have the risk of transmission. Now it’s even less outdoors. , but again, I’m always concerned that people are closely associated with one another in a high transmission community, which is pretty much the entire state of Alabama. ”
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said people should take precautions but at some point they have to get on with their lives.
“The virus is real,” Kennon said. “The virus is deadly for a certain segment of the population and that segment of the population has to protect itself and we have to try to help them, but otherwise the rest of us have to make a living. The rest of us should have normal lives. We have to raise our children in a normal environment and for me I have no intention of going back and canceling anything if I can help it.
For Wallace, it’s still too early to come out.
“We would love to have it, but we felt like there was no way we could do it and do it in a way that was safe for clients and volunteers,” he said.