Turning 10: Food and music festival continues fundraising tradition

Lance Shearer

Turning a decade old, the Marco Island Seafood and Music Festival – or maybe Food and Music Festival – turned to disco-rock, and turned a little away from the titular seafood.

Headliners “Almost ABBA,” a Canadian tribute band channeling the Swedish foursome that produced some of the biggest hits of the ’70s and ’80s, and sold hundreds of millions of record albums back when people still purchased those, packed the grounds at Veterans’ Community Park on Saturday night. Even music lovers who never paid much attention to their tunes found they knew all the words by heart, and couldn’t get the tunes out of their heads afterward.

Hammerhead's Seafood has been at the festival since its inception. The Marco Island Seafood & Music Festival turned 10 over the weekend, bringing thousands to Veterans' Community Park Friday through Sunday.

For some, this was no problem. Marco Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and festival co-organizer Dianna Dohm couldn’t stop shaking when the band was playing, and engaged in an impromptu dance routine with Laura Owen. Dohm explained they had taken the word “seafood” out of the event’s title, changing it to “Food and Music Festival,” with the thought that not all the comestibles offered for sale were actually seafood.

“We’ve added so many different varieties of food. We’re just giving it a try,” she said, apparently open to returning seafood to the festival’s name. This was the 10th year for what has become one of the most popular and heavily attended events on the island. With hundreds of volunteers from the two Marco Island Rotary Clubs and the Kiwanis, and thousands of attendees over its three days, the festival has taken in over $70,000 per year for the charitable endeavors of the service clubs.

“Each club has received between 22 and $25,000,” said Dohm, adding this year’s receipts had not been added up, and a total would not be available for some days. There was some question about when headliner Almost ABBA was supposed to take the stage, but the hiatus gave a little more time for festival-goers to hit the seafood vendors – they were still selling more seafood than anything else – and buy some 50/50 raffle tickets.

They could also visit the vendors in their rows of booths, selling everything from toffee in a multitude of flavors to sculptural castings, Swarovski crystal jewelry, hats, T-shirts, and Barry Howe’s visually arresting photos of area nature scenes.

David French of Hammerhead Seafood, based in St. Pete but originally from London, has been selling food at the Marco Island festival since it began in 2009. His biggest seller, he said, is the seafood jambalaya, but a lot of hungry diners also go for the seafood platter, with your choice of three items plus sides. He did add the Bourbon Street Chicken section to his marquee to accommodate the landlubber non-seafood types.

The Canadian Swedes (including, they said, one singer from Hawaii) on stage ran through many of the string of hits from “ABBA Gold,” drawing reactions with songs including “Fernando,” “Knowing You Knowing Me,” and “Super Trouper,” which they dedicated to all first responders. One of those, Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy, took a moment from his volunteering to engage with Dohm in a few quick dance moves.

But the band teased the audience with the one song everyone most wanted to hear. “Dancing Queen – do we know that one?” singer Lisa Ewing-Baker asked her fellow musicians. They did, and saved it for the finale.

Brassy, jazzy rockers the Manipulators played ahead of the ABBA sound-alikes, and Friday night’s headliner was Southwest Florida favorite the Ben Allen Band, a tight five-piece guitar-driven ensemble who played a string of country favorites, interspersed with some hard-driving Southern rock and roll.

The festival closed Sunday afternoon with Deb & the Dynamics, another act with many followers on Marco Island.