My oh my, just check out Musselfest 2022!
— Created March 2, 2022 by Melanie Hammons
By Melanie Hammons
They’re a gourmet shellfish lover’s delight, showing up on menus of some of the fanciest eateries of the world. And they’re all yours for the tasting at this year’s Musselfest in Coupeville Saturday and Sunday.
Although this year’s festival is somewhat scaled back due to the pandemic, things like the boat ride to the mussel beds, chowder tasting competition and kid-friendly activities still promise to make it an extra-fun weekend, said Musselfest organizer Vickie Chambers, with the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association.
“We want to emphasize to everyone that this is a free event,” she said. “While there’s a cost for some activities, such as the mussel bed tour, chowder tastings and kids’ scavenger hunt, there’s no ticket purchase needed just to come out and enjoy the weekend with us. Front Street activities along Coupeville’s historic waterfront will include opportunities to visit local merchants, tattoo artists, food vendors and maybe even a mermaid or two”
Chambers says the festival first began as a way to recognize the restaurants and other brick-and-mortar businesses along Coupeville’s historic waterfront, but it’s grown to become much more than that.
“What started as a way to encourage people to come out and eat mussels and chowder during the gray winter months, has become a sort of kick-off event for Whidbey Island fun and tourism,” she said. “It reminds us that good weather is on its way, that summer’s coming.”
Penn Cove mussels take the whole concept of “locavore” and bring it right home to Whidbey Island. Here, one can enjoy the sea’s bounty, plus sample locally-based restaurants’ take on chowder featuring the noteworthy shellfish. Since the festival is at its heart a competition too, no two samples are alike, but all are certain to be savory delights. Chowder tastings on Saturday and Sunday are to be held entirely in the downtown area.
Even when one purchases certified “locally grown” food, it’s rare indeed to actually lay eyes on it while it’s growing. But that’s not the case at all for “Coupeville-grown” Penn Cove mussels, Chambers said.
“If you walk half-way out on the wharf and look to the west, you’ll see at a distance what appear to be just wooden rafts. But they’re more than meets the eye. These are mussel beds that are being nurtured, cultivated to produce next year’s harvest of mussel shellfish,” she said.
Chambers says the boat trip out to the mussel beds is her favorite part of the celebration. The opportunity to observe Penn Cove Shellfish’s farm operation is well worth the price of the ticket purchase, she said.
“Musselfest is the only chance for the public to get an up close and personal tour of the beds,” she said. “That’s the only time they’re open to the public like that, and it only happens once a year.”
The mussels that are transformed into great-tasting food selections are just the beginning of the festival attractions. It wouldn’t be a party without the spirits to go along with it, which is why longtime attendees look forward to the beer and wine garden, too. This is hosted by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association on Saturday and Sunday, outdoors in the parking lot of the Coupeville Recreation Hall. Entry to the venue requires either proof of COVID vaccination and/or a negative test taken within 72 hours of the event.
Culinary dishes served in a friendly, outdoor atmosphere, to the accompaniment of live music just upped the ante a couple of notches higher. Enter a line-up of vocalists and bands who’ll be offering musical selections ranging from bluegrass, acoustic rock, western swing, jazz, and early rock. Keep an eye and ear out for Whidbey Island’s own beloved Shifty Sailors, too.
Chambers said she believes people are yearning to return to the outdoors, and fresh air, to herald the soon-arrival of spring.
“Musselfest was always designed to get people out of the house, following the long, gray months of winter. But last year’s Musselfest (2021) had to cancel, sadly, due to the pandemic. That’s why we believe folks will be extra excited to see what’s in store this year. And our hope is that by next year, we’ll see a full roster of all the other things we’ve come to love about this event,” she said.
There are a few changes related to safe health practices to be aware of during Musselfest. Shuttle bus service will not be available this year. Ticket sales, including for the boat ride tour to the mussel beds, are online only, no in-person transactions. And in keeping with limiting attendance numbers, only a total of 1,000 tickets can be issued this year for the chowder tasting. That’s 600 for Saturday, and 400 hundred on Sunday. The website thepenncovemusselsfestival.com gives comprehensive guidelines.
Like the famed golden tickets of the movie “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” tickets for this year’s Musselfest are sure to be in high demand. Since the online tickets are already selling briskly, Musselfest organizers urge everyone to check out the website, before the 1,000 tickets sell out. They hope people from all over will drop by to taste chowder and enjoy some fun together.
For more information about Musselfest, Vickie Chambers may be contacted at coupevillehistoricwaterfront.com.