There’s something to be said for an event in this city that’s lasted for 21 years. Of course there are older events in town, but 21 years serves as a milestone of maturity. Growing pains suffered. Lessons learned. It means that as of Sunday, November 20, 2016, The South Carolina Oyster Festival has survived at least a generation of Columbians, leaving me to wonder if some patrons in attendance this year might’ve been here as infants at the inaugural.
Not a single cloud casted it’s shadow over the event, and pleasant fall temperatures had everyone unpacking their sweaters and blankets in areas shaded by the trees. The Liquid Assets team, along with a caravan of food venders, served approximately 2,500 patrons. Of course, pails of oysters were served, but options for those not wanting to satiate their appetite on the bivalves were also available. All the tasty smells confused the mind as to which direction the stomach should go. Think oyster roasts at the South Carolina State Fair.
I had the privilege of talking with Shawn Rankin, owner of Liquid Assets, who executes the event. He couldn’t stay still. Several of his bartenders were hailing his two-way radio, desperate for resupply. Knowing no other way to ask him a few questions, I jumped on his cart offering to lend a hand.
Shawn and I weaved along the gravel paths of the Robert Mills House and Hampton-Preston Mansion, en route to the wine bar, a case of chardonnay strapped to the bench seat of his Club Car. He drove and I asked questions. “We’ve had the event at other places in the past, but most of them have been held at Historic Columbia. You couldn’t really ask for a better venue,” he said. Historic Columbia Foundation provides the venue and a number of the volunteers for the event, however Liquid Assets profits from it. “This event is done for profit, but we also donate to charity.” As hard as they work, Liquid Assets earns every penny. Serving as a board member of The Palladium Society, I can personally attest to the generosity of Liquid Assets for various causes in the community.
“I started the business when I was 8 years old, and I’m 33 years old now,” Rankin said jokingly, though at first glimpse his wiry frame and youthful attitude wouldn’t suggest a man much older than 33. “Liquid Assets is 25 years old, and when we started there weren’t many people in the state doing this (type of business).”
After making our rounds, he kindly dropped me back off at the flanker of the Robert Mills House. I walked through the properties, people-watching and listening to music of any and all genres. With local bands and musicians such as Reggie Sullivan, The Prairie Willows, and Dave Britt, there was something for everyone.
The Blue Pickups, a group of recording artists from Nashville, played last on the lineup. They opened with a cover of “Summer of ’69”by Brian Adams, playing until the crowd dwindled, and the setting sun behind the magnolia trees signaled another Sunday Funday had ended. Here’s a tip of my hat, and a happy 21st birthday to you, South Carolina Oyster Festival. All grown up now.
All photos by Jeff Lawler