Cooking up success: Marco Island Seafood & Music fest

Lance Shearer

There seems to be a force field that protects Marco Island. Friday evening during the opening night of the Marco Island Seafood and Music Festival, and again on Sunday afternoon, clouds gathered overhead and raindrops began to fall. But just as has happened with many other big public events on the island, Mother Nature shut off the spigot, and the bands played on.
This was the ninth year for what is billed as Marco Island’s largest event, and Marco Island Chamber of Commerce executive director Dianna Dohm said it was “the most successful we’ve ever had.
“Our new additions, the frozen drinks and the brewfest, were very popular, and the VIP tent worked out great,” she said. “Over 9,000 people, maybe 96 or 9,800 showed up. We haven’t tallied it all up yet – I just dropped everything off at the bank – but we think we’re about 10 percent up from last year.” Proceeds from the event go to support the charitable endeavors of the Marco Island Kiwanis and the island’s two Rotary clubs, who join together to organize the massive party.

File: Ben Allen, left, leads his namesake band through country favorites at the Marco Island Seafood and Music Festival.

Friday night’s headliner was the Ben Allen Band, a tight five-piece guitar-driven ensemble who played a string of country favorites, interspersed with some rock and roll – think Lynyrd Skynyrd – original compositions, and an acoustic cover of Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks at 40.”
With the closest of the audience’s lounge chairs well back from the stage, there was plenty of room for festival-goers, primarily ladies, to get up and shake it in front of the stage. During one number, a couple dozen women were doing the “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” in their flipflops.
Of course, the major helping of Buffett tunes came Saturday night, when the marquee act was the Caribbean Chillers, a Buffett tribute band, and a new one to the festival, which has had “parrot head” clones play before, but not these.

Ben Allen was preceded onstage Friday by the Greg Miller Band, wellknown to Marco Island audiences, but hampered by having half his regular bandmates absent, their parts taken by replacement players, including guitar, bass and congas. The Greg Miller Band will be back on the island for the upcoming Taste of Marco, and the Ben Allen Band recently played on Residents Beach for MICA.
Toucando and SowFlo opened the Saturday show before the Chillers, and on Sunday, local favorite Marco Kircher sang accompanied by backup tracks before Sunday’s featured act, Rick & the Speed Bumps, brought the rockabilly. Missing from the lineup were some of the amateur and kids’ groups that had played previous Music and Seafood Festivals, which Dohm said was in response to surveys of past attendees.
The VIP tent, sponsored by Seminole Casino Immokalee, offered a premium package including a lobster dinner, drink coupons and reserved covered seating close by the stage, in case any of those rain sprinkles had developed into something serious – and it is worth noting that on Thursday, actual hail did fall on Marco.

Seafood took many forms during the festival, with lobster rolls as well as whole Maine lobster available from Bill’s Steaks & Seafood. Another new vendor was Pinchers, who offered cheesy blue crab nachos, crab cakes and seafood dip along with their Key lime tarts. Along “seafood row,” everything from jambalaya to coconut shrimp, grouper fingers, paella, clam strips and fried oysters was on the menu.
Non-seafood eaters had plenty of choices, including a selection of meat items from Wild Jimmy’s, and the popular ice cream at Royal Scoop. Volunteers offered a selection of import and domestic beers, along with wine and the aforementioned frozen drinks.
“The more you drink, the better we sound,” Ben Allen announced from the stage, and the more money was raised. Dohm thanked all the volunteers, and singled out for special mention Stan Niemczyk, the Rotarian who had the original idea for the festival, Al Diaz, Erik Condee, Ewout de Vries, and Wanda Day.