ROCKLAND, Maine — With the deep blue harbor behind her and a bright red lobster on a plate in front of her, Mia Saunier of Ocala, Florida, looked happy Thursday afternoon at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.
“I love lobster so much,” she said.
That put her in good company. The second day of the festival, celebrating its 75th year, featured lots of smiling people eating thousands of pounds of Maine’s official state crustacean, all of which were hauled from the cold waters of Penobscot Bay.
In other words, in the most important ways it was back to normal for the volunteer-run event, which is one of the signature happenings in midcoast Maine during the summer. The festival was last held in 2019 before a two-year hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think people were really missing the chance to get out,” Shannon Kinney, one of the directors of the festival, said. “Yesterday, one of our vendors said it was the best day ever, which is not usual for a Wednesday.”
There are some changes, she said, including the fact that admission is now free and there is a beer tent for the first time ever. Festival organizers also chose not to include the carnival midway this year. And for the first time, lobster shells will be recycled.
“We went green this year,” Kinney said. “It was a huge shift, but it was the right thing to do.”
Children’s activities include a petting zoo, games, a festival-wide treasure hunt and the presence of the Pirates of the Dark Rose, a group of friendly midcoast-based buccaneers.
“For anybody who thinks they know the lobster festival, there’s a lot of things that are different this year,” she said.
But the heart of the festival remains red, succulent and best served with melted butter.
“We’ll serve tens of thousands of pounds of lobster. We’re a good customer for our local fisherman right now,” she said. “Which is really what it’s all about.”
She’ll get no argument from visitors like Tawanda Matthews of Lawrenceville, Georgia.
“This is our first time here,” she said. “We love lobster, and we’re having a good time.”
Greg and Trish Mikkelson of Merritt Island, Florida, said they had come up to escape the heat, which on an 85-degree day felt like it had followed them up the eastern seaboard. Although they donned plastic bibs to eat their lobsters, they still got caught in the messiness crossfire.
“Why did I take a shower this morning?” Greg Mikkelson joked.
Not everyone enjoying themselves at the event was on vacation, including Cindy Wallach, the executive producer for an eight-part series about female lobstermen that will air on the Smithsonian Channel and Paramount+ when it’s completed.
Wallach and a crew from Lone Wolf Media in South Portland and Mongoose Films of Detroit, Michigan, came to the festival to film two of the lobstermen who are featured in the show.
“These women are so inspiring, and we want to show little girls that they can do anything,” the producer said, adding that it hasn’t been all work for the crew members. “We are super excited to eat lobster. I’m not sick of it yet, and I’ve been eating it pretty much every day of the shoot.”
More than 1,000 volunteers help make the festival run smoothly. One of the youngest was Eli Thorne, 8, whose U.S. Coast Guard family recently moved to Thomaston from Alabama. Eli helped his dad cook lobsters at the World’s Greatest Lobster Cooker, which can cook 1,600 pounds of crustaceans in just 15 minutes. When asked how it was, he was succinct.
“Hot and fun,” he said.
One of the most experienced volunteers is Brian Harden of Rockland, who actually attended the very first festival 75 years ago as a three-month-old baby. His mother was in charge of volunteers, so as soon as he turned five, he was given a job to do.
“My friend and I had to come down and put potato chips on the plate,” he said. “It’s all they trusted us with.”
He’s been a fixture at the festival most years since then.
“People come here that don’t eat lobster during the year. You see them sitting at those tables and they love it,” he said.
The Maine Lobster Festival, held at Harbor Park in Rockland, will run through 6 p.m. Sunday, August 7. Admission is free.