If they wanted to, the people of Yarmouth could change the town’s slogan to “The Little Town with the Big, Big Fun.”
And it would be true. This weekend more than 100,000 people will likely descend on the town of about 8,000 for the annual Yarmouth Clam Festival, one of southern Maine’s signature summer events.
The town’s quaint village center will host a 90-minute parade, dozens of musical performances, a carnival midway, craft and art shows, the Diaper Derby baby race, and the Maine State Clam Shucking Contest. Plus, of course, lots of clams and other treats, including the wildly-popular lime rickeys, made by members of the Downeasters barbershop-style chorus.
But as large as the festival is, Yarmouth still manages it in a small-town way. It’s almost entirely run by volunteers. Granted, they show up big. Many volunteers started helping out while in middle school, and some have come back annually for 50 years.
Yarmouth’s actual slogan speaks to the welcoming, eager-to-help attitude of townsfolk: “Our Latchstring Always Out.”
That’s an old-fashioned way of saying our door is always open. And during the long history of clam fest, Yarmouth people have been flinging the town’s metaphorical doors wide open to welcome folks, as well as opening their actual doors to run out and help with the event.
Lots of town organizations and sports groups raise funds, in a big way, by manning booths at the festival. So, going to the Clam Festival is not only fun, it’s a way to meet virtually everyone in town.
“I started more than 50 years ago, probably selling strawberry shortcake for the (First Parish) church, but for the past few years I’ve been in the (information) trailer, answering questions, helping with the lost and found,” said Sandy Bowie, 72. “It’s a way for a lot of town groups to make a lot of money, so everybody helps out.”
Bowie has even ridden a float in the parade. Yarmouth being a town with strong ties to the sea, there was a Popeye float one year and Bowie was asked to dress up as Swee’Pea, Olive Oyl’s baby cousin. So, Bowie did and even brought her own baby bottles as props.
In her current job, manning the info booth, she gets questions about whether dogs are allowed (no, only service dogs) and where to park. For the latter she can refer them to a map, on the festival brochure and online, that shows shuttle bus parking areas.
Carl Cappello, a member of the Downeasters barber shop-style group, has been making and selling lime rickeys at the festival for some 20 years. The drink is always made by the Downeasters and has become the clam fest’s unofficial drink. Usually there are more lime rickeys (13,000) sold than lobster rolls (6,000). The drink is old-fashioned, simple and time-consuming to make. Volunteers squeeze the juice of one lime, then add simple sugar, seltzer water and ice. The price has stayed at $3 for a 16-ounce cup for years, even though the prices of limes go up and down.
“One year there was some damage to the crop in Mexico, and we thought the price of limes was going to bankrupt us,” said Cappello. “But then we found out there was another crop ready to go, and we were able to afford them.”
So, that was the year Yarmouth avoided being the small town with a big lime rickey bill.
Following are some highlights of the big fun scheduled for this year’s clam festival:
10 a.m. – Craft Show: Officially opens on the North Yarmouth Academy lawn, featuring jewelry, clothing, wood carvings and other items from more than 140 artisans. Also at 10 a.m. Friday, the Fine Arts Show opens with artists from all over New England on the Merrill Memorial Library lawn.
1 p.m. – Flukes: The Falmouth Library’s Ukulele Society will perform at the NYA tent. Other bands performing Friday around the festival include Jeezum Crow (11:30 a.m.), Mountain Emergency (noon) and Jeff Beam (2:30 p.m.) So there’s no shortage of music.
6 p.m. – Clam Festival Parade: People line up their lawn chairs days (maybe weeks) in advance to get a good spot. The parade features more than 130 floats, stretches for a mile and a half, and lasts for about an hour and a half. You’ll see people in wacky costumes – seafood themed, perhaps – as well as marching bands, antique cars, jugglers and other entertaining folks. Streets close at 5:30 p.m. so get there early.
11 a.m. – Maine State Clam Shucking Contest: There are professional and amateur heats held at the Memorial Green, to see who is the speediest shucker in the land. You can spot the shuckers because they all wear bright yellow rain hats.
1-3:30 p.m. – Firefighters’ Muster: See local fire departments square off on Main Street, by the Memorial Green. Dressed in full gear, they show off their unique skills, including moving things with a stream of water.
9:15 p.m. – Fireworks: The show will be set off from the Royal River Park but the best viewing is behind the library, or Memorial Green, or near the amusements of Smokey’s Greater Shows. Seeing the fireworks’ colors blend with the colored lights of the Ferris wheel and other rides is pretty spectacular.
Noon – Diaper Derby: One of the festival’s signature events, at the Memorial Green tent and hosted by sportscaster Lee Goldberg from Portland TV station WCSH. This race is divided into three age groups: Crawlers who are 1 to 12 months old; Toddlers who are 13-24 months old; and Toddlers who are 25-36. It’s extremely fun to watch other babies or toddlers crawling at high speeds, especially when you’re not the one who has to catch them.
IT ALL ADDS UP
The Yarmouth Clam Festival is all about having fun in a small town, in a big way. A look at the number of various treats served up each year helps prove that point
6,000 pounds of clams
6,000 lobster rolls
2,500 pancake breakfasts
2,000 shore dinners
6,000 strawberry shortcakes
13,500 lime rickeys (That’s about 4,000 more lime rickeys than there are people living in Yarmouth.)
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 7:10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 7:10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; midway rides and attractions also open 5-11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday
WHERE: Main Street, Yarmouth; area of most attractions stretches from the First Universalist Church (97 Main St.) to Town Hall (200 Main St.)
HOW MUCH: Free admission, and free live entertainment. Food for sale, charges for carnival rides.