EASTON — This past weekend’s sunny, brisk days provided the “perfect waterfowl weather” for the 49th annual Waterfowl Festival in Easton. Visitors flocked to the streets and venues in droves to enjoy world-class art, sporting vendors and heritage exhibits spread throughout the town.
The streets of Easton hummed with activity on Saturday, Nov. 9, and Sunday, Nov. 10, with people of all ages enjoying food, art and music, showcasing the best of autumn on the Eastern Shore.
This year’s official attendance came in at about 14,119 people, almost exactly the same as the previous year.
“The festival has always been about celebrating our community – through wildlife art, our sporting heritage and the Eastern Shore way of life,” said Waterfowl Festival President Kevin Greaney.
“We made several changes this year to improve on our visitors’ experiences in preparation for our 50th anniversary in 2020 and we are very pleased with the results,” Greaney said. “This felt like one of our most exciting events in recent years. Guests seemed really happy and every venue was hopping on Saturday.”
More than 50 Festival Chairmen volunteered countless hours to manage everything from venues and exhibits to ticket sales, transportation and security. More than 700 additional community volunteers on Festival weekend made it all flow.
“Guests often don’t realize that we are virtually an all-volunteer operation,” Greaney said. “From our leadership to people working with visitors and behind the scenes, every gift of time is essential to making Festival work. We are so very grateful to everyone who came out to make our 49th year a success.”
The weekend kicked off with Waterfowl Chesapeake’s Premiere Night Party, attended by more than 550 guests — including corporate supporters, donors and art buyers — who turned out to enjoy an evening of food, cocktails and a preview of the Festival’s six downtown art galleries.
Guests were also treated to new art experiences including two YETI “Quick Paint” projects in which Chestertown artist Mary Prichard created a landscape and 2019 Featured Artist Nancy Tankersley painted a Chesapeake Bay scene, both on tops of YETI coolers.
David Turner also offered a “Quick Clay,” sculpting a duck in less than one hour. These items were auctioned off to determined bidders, with $2,300 in proceeds going directly to Waterfowl Chesapeake’s two Delmarva-based conservation projects for 2019.
The William A. Perry Art and Decoy Auction also raised more than $3,800 for the William. A. Perry Scholarship Fund that benefits local college-bound students. “We felt the evening was great fun overall and were very pleased with the number of new people that joined the party,” said Waterfowl Chesapeake Executive Director Margaret Enloe.
More than 60 business, community and elected leaders gathered early Friday morning for a “Coffee & Conservation” event, co-hosted by Waterfowl Chesapeake and the Talbot County Office of Tourism and Economic Development to kick off the official start of the Festival. Guest speaker Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Ricco delivered a thoughtful address focused on the agency’s work to bolster the outdoor recreation economy across the state and interesting aquaculture opportunities in the county.
Saturday’s chilly temperatures didn’t deter visitors. Waterfowl’s downtown “Beer Wetland”, now in its second year, provided one of many venues for friends to enjoy grilled oysters, live music performed by local musicians and local craft beers, including “Wood’rfowl Brew” made especially for Waterfowl weekend by RAR Brewing in Cambridge.
The “Chesapeake Marketplace” at Easton Middle School, with free admission this year, featured vendors and kid’s activities like the Chesapeake Mermaid, children’s story times, arts and crafts and a classroom full of conservation exhibits.
Families seemed to enjoy the more family-friendly atmosphere which included an expanded food vendor area and a new birds-of-prey demonstration, “Wings Across America” offered by the Earth Conservation Corps.
In the six downtown Art Galleries, more than one hundred of the finest nature and wildlife artists — some here for their first Festival, some returning favorites — came from all over the world. A constant stream of visitors flowed in and out of the galleries all day, enjoying sculptures, paintings, photographs, carvings and many new art pieces that defy traditional genre definitions.
Featured Artist Nancy Tankersley’s exhibition showcased her love of depicting local watermen at work, including the festival’s featured painting “Podgin’ for Oysters.” Tankersley sold several pieces, although the featured piece still remains available for purchase.
Festival’s new venue, Art at the Library, offered an exhibit from the local Working Artists Forum.
Across town at the Bay Street Ponds, temperatures didn’t stop regional hunting dogs from showing off their skills at the Retriever Demonstrations, though the hardy spectators there and during the fishing activities were bundled up tight on Saturday.
The even larger Sportsman’s Pavilion focused on the regions’ sporting heritage, with additional vendors like Duck Camp, Eukanuba, Boss Shotgun Shells, National Wild Turkey Federation, the giant Molly’s Place Sporting Goods tent, and an additional tent for duck and goose call-makers, with several major vendors completely selling out of their wares.
Activities onsite like the Kids’ Goose & Duck Calling Clinics, led by champions from the World Waterfowl Calling Contest®, saw registration fill quickly and helped introduce 100 of the youngest festival guests to the sport of duck and goose calling.
Over 150 dogs competed in the North American Diving Dogs®, which featured stadium seating. Many amateur dogs and puppies competed in the non-competitive “try-its” between the competitions.
The Festival’s World Waterfowl Calling Contests presented by Molly’s Place Sporting Goods crowned Ritson Galloway its first international winner in the Jr. Duck Calling Contest while Kile Jones of Paducah, Kentucky took his second win in the World Goose Calling Championship.
Saturday evening after the contest finals, callers and other sportsmen and women enjoyed the revamped Sportsman’s Party at the Elks Lodge. It was a rocking event thanks to the support of YETI, Molly’s Place, Bass Pro Shops, Drake Waterfowl and several more corporate sponsors who supported the 2019 championships and also offered raffle prizes for the party.
More than 200 people enjoyed a dinner of crab cakes and fried chicken, the Festival Beer Garden on tap and music by James Avedon well into the night.
Across the street, the “Buy, Sell, Swap” offered visitors the opportunity to learn about the Shore’s waterfowl-related heritage by visiting with traders and collectors. At the Harry M. Walsh Artifacts Exhibit next door, guests had the unique opportunity to see museum exhibitions and private historic collections not found anywhere else.
“The Waterfowl Festival owes a great deal of thanks to our many corporate, business, promotional and non-profit partners for their new or continued support this year,” Greaney said. “We absolutely couldn’t do it without each and every one of them and the services offered by the Town of Easton and Talbot County, too. We are particularly grateful for the funding we received from the Maryland State Arts Council.”