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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: July 18, 2018

Get your chairs out (if they aren’t already) for the Yarmouth Clam Fest’s ’80s-themed parade

Written by: Ray Routhier

Michael Leonard set up some chairs along the parade route of the Yarmouth Clam Festival a little early – on a snowy day in February a few years ago.

“Four people stopped and told me it was too early to put the chairs out,” for the July parade, said Leonard, a professional photographer from Yarmouth. “But then I put the picture online, and it went viral.”

Leonard didn’t leave his chairs in the snow; they were only props. His picture was meant to poke gentle fun at the fact that lots of people set up chairs weeks before the festival to get a good view. What started as a small-town celebration is now 53 years old and has become one of southern Maine’s premiere summer attractions – with some 80,000 visitors expected – and with the parade as a major draw. The festival will run Friday through Sunday.

The festival also includes thrilling carnival rides, live music acts, arts and crafts, fireworks and some 6,000 pounds of clams, among other tasty treats. But the parade, which attracts dozens of groups to create incredibly creative costumes and floats, seems to have a cache all its own.

“Sometimes I have a hard time getting people to do it. They say they’ll feel weird being up there on a float with everyone looking at them,” said Gretchen Sigler, who has organized floats for Casco Bay Ford in Yarmouth. “But then they get out there and have so much fun.”

“It’s hilarious, people point and yell, ‘That’s my bank!’ ” said Melissa Libby, branch manager of the town’s Bath Savings Institution branch. “It’s such a great community event.”

The parade kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday and will include more than a 100 floats, vehicles or marching groups. It’ll last about 90 minutes as the marchers and revelers wind their way through the town on West Elm and Main streets.

Each year, the parade has a theme that marchers and float-makers use as a guide for their creativity. Last year’s was “classic movies,” which prompted a crew from the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland to paint black spots on a white van and turn it into a giant dog in celebration of the film “101 Dalmatians.” The folks from Casco Bay Ford dressed up like the characters from the “Toy Story” films, and their float included the dealership name spelled in giant, colorful toy blocks.

This year the theme is “Totally ’80s.” The Animal Refuge League, staying with the animal theme, will have revelers dressed as characters from the stage musical “Cats,” which debuted in 1981. The beauty store Sephora, a big Animal Refuge League supporter, is supplying the makeup for whiskers and cat-like features, and some volunteers are making cat wigs and costumes.

The Bath Savings employees are going back to the ’80s as characters from the Super Mario Bros. video game, which Nintendo launched in 1985. A truck will be decorated like the castle from the game.

And the Casco Bay Ford folks will celebrate the 1984 Bill Murray movie “Ghostbusters,” dressing as both ghosts and busters.

The ’80s theme was picked after the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce did a Facebook survey last fall, said Adrienne Nardi, the executive director.

Besides floats and costumed marchers, the parade will have antique cars, official town vehicles, community groups and bands.

And of course the festival’s smiling mascot, Steamer, a walking, waving clam wearing a Sou’wester storm hat. One relatively new feature of the festival are “Steamer the Clam Sightings” sprinkled throughout the festival days at different locations, listed on the festival website and in the handy schedule brochures.

At those locations, people can pose for a picture with Steamer taken by Michael Leonard, who is the festival’s photographer. Then people get a card telling them how to go online and download their pictures, for free.

Steamer sort of embodies the festival and its stature in town. The festival started fairly small, not noticed by the rest of the state, but has become a major tourist attraction. And while most clams end up breaded and fried or dipped in butter, Steamer is a celebrity, marching in the parade and drawing crowds wherever he goes.

And at the festival this weekend, people will be lining up to have their picture taken with him.

“Some kids will run up to him and give him a hug, some people will just shake hands,” said Leonard. “But everyone’s enthusiastic.”

53rd YARMOUTH CLAM FESTIVAL

WHEN: Friday through Sunday
WHERE: Downtown Yarmouth, mostly on Main Street from School Street heading east to a little beyond Bridge Street
HOW MUCH: Free admission, food and crafts for sale, fees for rides.
INFO: clamfestival.com
HIGHLIGHTS: “Totally ’80s” themed parade 6-7:30 p.m. Friday; Maine State Clam Shucking Contest, 11 a.m. Saturday; fireworks 9:15 p.m. Saturday; Diaper Derby crawling race, noon Sunday; “Yarmouth in the ’80s” exhibit at Yarmouth History Center 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Daily activities include live music, carnival rides, art show, craft show and photos with Steamer the clam (official festival mascot) daily.

FESTIVAL FUN FACTS

Here’s some historical trivia about the festival from the Yarmouth Historical Society:

  • The last time an actual clambake was held during the festival was in 1973. *
  • Winners in the beauty contests in the first festivals were called “Clam Queens.” *
  • The first winner, Donna Lee Owen Stokes, was crowned by then-governor John H. Reed in 1966. *
  • The first clam-shucking contest was held in 1974.*
  • Baseball Hall of Famer and Red Sox legend Ted Williams was the Grand Marshall of the festival’s parade in 1987.

BY THE NUMBERS

Here’s a look at how much food is usually sold at each festival:

  • 6,000 pounds of clams
  • 6,000 lobster rolls
  • 2,500 pancake breakfasts
  • 2,000 shore dinners
  • 400 homemade pies
  • 6,000 strawberry shortcake
  • More than 13,500 lime Rickeys
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