MOUNT PLEASANT -- It was perfect weather for the 29th annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival on Sunday, and thousands crowded into Boone Hall Plantation to enjoy it.
Organizers estimated close to 11,000 people showed up and consumed 80,000 pounds of oysters -- not to mention all the other food local restaurants were selling.
"I think it might have been a record," said Kathy Britzius, executive director of the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, which organizes the festival. "It was just a fantastic day."
The only complaint came from people who spent an hour in their cars crawling in off U.S. Highway 17. On the other hand, it took only half that long for those who took advantage of the shuttle system that was instituted last year.
Whit and Dawn Templeton and 2-year-old Noelle of Mount Pleasant rode the shuttle for the first time and were impressed. Not only was it faster, it was a chance to enjoy a ride through the fields and woods under sunny skies and shoot the breeze with fellow passengers.
"This is great," Whit Templeton said after the ride. "I'd do this every time now."
Tickets were $12 in advance and $15 at the gate, with no charge for children 10 and younger. Oysters were $10 a bucket. Children's activities included horseback riding, jewelry making, temporary tattoos and jump castles.
The festival raises about $25,000 each year for local charities that include The Ronald McDonald House, Hospitality Heroes, Hollings Cancer Center, Shriners Hospitals for Children and Charleston County Schools Science Materials Resource Center, Britzius said.
The event also raises money for culinary scholarships.
By 1:30 p.m. Sunday, it was so crowded you had to watch where you walked so you didn't step on anyone. More people were arriving, and hundreds who arrived earlier were on their way out.
Skies were blue and sunny, with temperatures in the low 60s. Many who arrived wearing a jacket or sweater ended up in T-shirts. The food and beer lines were packed.
The more serious oyster eaters were back by the marsh, where dozens of volunteers were serving from a long line of oyster steamers.
"This is great Charleston weather," said Paul Apted of Summerville, who was sitting on the ground in a white T-shirt with a bucket of oysters. "I had a sweater on, but it's hot."
The shells went into big metal trash bins for recycling back into local waterways that produce oysters.
About 20 men from Blacksburg, which is about 40 miles from Charlotte, came with their hair and beards dyed green. They said they've made the festival an annual event for years.
"We're getting an early start on St. Patrick's Day," said Billy Cartee. "We just came down to party a little bit and have a good weekend."
A nearby table was covered with buckets of oyster shells. Some in the crowd were starting to dance to the music of Eddie Bush.
"We always have a good time," said Danny Fulton, also sporting a green beard. "It's a good party. We'll be back next year if we're still alive."
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.