The aroma of fresh crabs filled the air Friday evening in Annapolis as hundreds lined up outside of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the 77th annual Annapolis Crab Feast.
The attendees wasted no time digging into the 125 bushels supplied by Chesapeake Seafood Catering in St. Michaels along with large husks of corn on the cob and other staples.
Friday’s night’s feast was a welcome experience for those who have missed the long-standing tradition — one put on hold for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there were plenty who were familiar with the Annapolis Rotary Club and the group’s annual crab fest, several in attendance were newcomers.
“This is my first time coming to this event but it won’t be my last,” said Newton Gentry, 65, who has been living in Annapolis for the last 30 years. “One of my buddies from my fraternity is now the president of the Rotary Club so we all came out to support him.”
The turnout was about 1,000, lower than previous years, but the guests who made it had plenty to enjoy.
“Our numbers are about half of where we normally are,” said Leigh Rand, chairperson overseeing the feast. “I know people are still concerned with COVID-19 and crab costs have risen but it’s still a fun event, just a little smaller.”
Rand also says they expected the two-year break to hurt attendance but they are prepared to work on building it back to its peak.
To go along with crabs, the event offered all-you-can-eat hot dogs, pulled pork and multiple stations of cold beer. There were even baked goods for sale mostly made by Rotarians.
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While guests navigated the event, slices of watermelons were passed out. The fruit was provided by the Mar-Del Watermelon Association, an organization that helps promote buying local watermelons from local farmers.
As recent as 2019 the Annapolis Rotary Club boasted that its Crab Feast was the largest in the world.
While the event went off without a hitch there were some changes since the event was last held in 2019. For one, ticket prices increased $20 from $70 in 2019, and to $90 this year. Also, the catering company changed due to the tremendous pressures facing the seafood industry.
“It’s so good to have the crab feast back,” said Shirley Womack, Annapolis resident and co-founder of the Annapolis All Stars II, a youth sports program in the city. “I remember coming and the tickets were much less, maybe $40-50, but times change. I’m just glad the money goes to a good place.”
Regardless of the cost, it’s hard to put a price on what it’s worth to get the community back together after such a trying couple of years, said U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes.
“This a great community event. The Rotary Club always puts together a good gathering,” said Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who has been coming to the event for years. “These are the best crabs I’ve had all summer. I’m so glad the weather held up.”
The Annapolis Rotary Club has been putting this event together since 1946.