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Festival beckons tens of thousands
Tens of thousands of people descended upon Jekyll Island this weekend to pay tribute to a Southern delicacy.

An estimated 25,000 people attended the three-day Shrimp & Grits: the Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival on Jekyll, which attracted shellfish lovers and foodies from all over.

While hungry guests meandered about Jekyll's historic district sampling various versions of the classic seafood dish, Sharon Lumpkin, of Atlanta, approached the food more seriously.

Furiously peeling and eating shrimp fresh from Georgia's ocean waters, Lumpkin consumed 22 shrimp Saturday in an eating contest on the lawn of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.

"We entered last year... we were so close that we said this is our year," Lumpkin said.

Lumpkin fell short of the bragging rights that come with eating the most shrimp in a minute, but that didn't matter. To her, the festival full of food, music and entertainment was a family affair.

For the last four years, her far-flung family has chosen the annual festival as the location for its family reunion. This year, four generations were represented at the event.

"The kids being able to play -- and being able to relax and dance without crowds of too many people -- it's just great," Lumpkin said of the festival, now in its seventh year.

The festival began Friday evening with a sampling of various shrimp and grits recipes and continued Saturday and Sunday with activities for kids and adults alike. Those 21 and over enjoyed a craft brew tasting, while younger festival-goers looked in awe at an extreme trampoline act and a juggling show.

Amateur chefs competed Saturday for the title of best shrimp and grits recipe -- along with an $800 prize. Professional chefs showed off their skills Sunday for a $2,000 purse.

Rosemarie Marshall saw her first shrimp festival as an opportunity to share her family's recipe with other seafood enthusiasts.

Marshall stirred small pieces of bacon Saturday, filling the competition tent with a salty aroma, while her family members chopped colorful bell peppers and peeled shrimp during the allotted competition preparation time.

Her team, Rose and Co., consisted of her family members from New Jersey, Florida and Atlanta and along the East Coast.

"They wanted to come, and we thought it would be more fun if we participated," Marshall said.

Marshall began her festival experience before its scheduled three days by cooking up different versions of shrimp and grits and asking her neighbors to vote on their favorite.

Though the title of best amateur shrimp and grits recipe went to another team, the memories made with her family are what mattered, Marshall said.

"We've had fun in the preparation. The whole process has been fun," she said.

But there was more than just shrimp and grits at the festival that enveloped the island's historic district.

With thousands enjoying the festival, the dozens of vendors and year-round merchants in the historic district saw a chance to show off their products.

Several hundred people had visited Mary Vastola's jewelry booth by mid-afternoon on Saturday, she estimated.

Her first time as a jewelry vendor on Jekyll, Vastola said she received a good reception from the guests on the island.

"It looked like a good festival, and it was a good time of year," Vastola said. "Everyone has been fantastic."

Julianna Germano, owner of the Commissary, said the festival has been good for the year-round historic district merchants because it brought in shoppers after the end of the usual tourism season.

"We've already surpassed last year's numbers (of sales during the festival)," Germano said Saturday evening.


Saturday's amateur cooking competition

1. Caleb Herrin

2. Harlan Hambright

3. Jason Smith

Sunday's profession competition

1. Purple Sage Catering

2. Southern Soul

3. Tasteful Temptations

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