In October I experienced my third OysterFest as a Wellfleet resident. I thought I should volunteer, and I worked stamping entrants’ hands (the ink lasts longer on the inside of the wrist, a nurse told me) so they could leave and return without problems. There were 11,000 visitors to our tiny town that day and no time to check tickets twice. On Sunday, I sold mimosas at Preservation Hall.
The stamping gig turned me into a sort of bouncer. Folks appeared with forbidden bikes and dogs (no room for them with more than 11,000 humans). Some people wanted to buy tickets, but they were sold out.
Amidst my bouncing, I reflected on this most unusual event. OysterFest has existed for 20 years and seems to have achieved legendary status. I got to thinking about large crowds. As a child and young adult, I loved them: the World’s Fair, Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I would never miss the Feast of San Gennaro (see The Godfather Part II). But now I was thinking: I don’t get it. You pay good money for a ticket and parking, all for the privilege of buying oysters, beer, and whatever else is on sale.
Oh, yes: there’s oyster shucking and live music, but the crowd is so large that unless you are in the front rows, you’re watching it all on a large screen. Might it be easier to tune in on the internet?
I was starting to feel Oyster-Bah-Humbug Scrooge-like as I kept meeting people — and then it hit me. Everybody is here to be here. To join, to celebrate, to be in the company of an enormous number of folks. And I said to myself: the pandemic is over.
Of course, it isn’t. There’s been an upsurge of cases lately, and new vaccines are available. But the relative control and immunity in a lot of us has been bringing society back to itself. I don’t think this was on many people’s minds at the fest. When you recover from an illness, you jump back in, and the downtime is history.
I was amazed at how well organized this back-to-the-fest was. The town center was under major construction for an entire week. The police kept a watchful eye on the crowds without intrusion or disruption.
I spoke with a gentleman who had worked on the week-long construction, mentioned how great the event was, and said perhaps we should do it a couple of times a year. He rolled his eyes and lifted one finger as if to say, “One is enough.”
But what a one. We lament the loss of togetherness in our tech era. But OysterFest shows that the Outer Cape still has it.
We are a community.
John Shuman is an actor and writer who lives in Wellfleet.