The annual tradition begins with the Land and Sea Gala, a cocktail party featuring local food, drinks, dancing, a live auction, and more (tickets begin at $125).
This year, the 29th annual festival will begin on Friday, September 21 and run through Sunday, September 23. As in years past, the Saturday parade, regarded by some as the festival’s signature event, will display classic wooden boats and other related floats. The ensuing festival will feature Greenport-specific activities, like kayak racing, water sport demonstrations, woodcarving, model shipbuilding, music, food, local artists, craft beers, and local wines.
A stroll down Front Street (and Main Street, too) is a Maritime Festival tradition. Outside of storefronts, hopeful wanderers will find every manner of vendor, from silversmith to liquor purveyor. In 2017, one vendor sold wildly popular cocktails-in-a-can, including spicy Bloody Marys from Cutwater Spirits. Local restaurants, like Noah’s, offered up more casual menu options, like artisanal sausages and hot-off-the-grill sliders. There are, perennially, oysters for eating, caught in the Peconic, an embracement of the beginning of “official” oyster-eating season (months with an R, they used to say, though many of us argue that the adage no longer applies).
The Railroad Dock features antique fire trucks, while Mitchell Park—home to an impressive carousel in and of itself—rotates events every hour. Last year’s events included story time for young children, marine archaeology, a “Merfolk” contest, kids’ relays, and Pirate School. It’s a family-friendly event, of course, as most festivals are, bolstered by historical ties to Greenport. The littlest mariners can while away the days in costume, while the older among us can find a certain camaraderie among East End folk looking to soak in the last of the season’s golden days.
What the Maritime Festival really provides, though, is an opportunity to roam the streets of Greenport, unobstructed. There’s an undeniable charm to a town that opens its doors—and kitchens—to you, allowing you to meander free without threat of car. It’s a reminder of the quality that larger cities cannot provide, an intimate connection with a whole town, and not just a neighborhood. White tents stretch as far as the eye can see, all the way down Front Street and onto neighboring Main, where casual strollers can find any manner of ephemera, nautically inspired or otherwise. Outside of Flavors Dessert Café, a vendor sells freshly spun cotton candy, which may not rise to the occasion of a “foodie-celebrated food,” but which is, in its very essence, kind of perfect. Spun sugar with food coloring? Count me in, sticky hands notwithstanding.
Festivals, of course, are conducive to a specific kind of eating, the kind of eating that requires only a single hand and a stash of cheap napkins. Sausages, sliders, cotton candy, cocktails in cans… it could be anything, really, so long as it’s imminently portable and sufficiently unhealthy (there’s a wide spectrum here, of course, but the list of things that festival food should not be begins and ends with any discussion of the perennial en vogue kale salad). Although Maritime Festival vendors change yearly, one can always expect this level of fun food, from cotton candy down. And even the most hardened foodie can respect the laissez-faire attitude of a good, old-fashioned street fair. Eat, in the spirit of love and festivity. Eat, because food need not always be precious, or ostentatious, or filled with any specificity of purpose. Sometimes, it need only taste good.
Which is to say: the trek to the Maritime Festival (or lack of trek, should you happen to live near Greenport) is worth the promises, because you will undoubtedly find, amidst the music and artisans, the carousel and ships passing, something worth eating. In the still-warm festival evenings, as fall just starts to settle on the North Fork, Mitchell Park becomes a fantasy playground, offering live music, dancing, and open air film screenings. Between the mermaids and pirates, the street food and the scrimshaw, you’re bound to find the remedy for all that ails you.