Art and Seafood Street Fest artist Stephen Kishel
Restaurant managers Paul Norris and Mike Marignoni were busy shucking oysters at the Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival on Saturday.
The two, along with the help of others in the Serg Restaurant Group, had already shucked some 500 oysters by midday and by end of the day were expecting to do some 600 altogether.
Saturday's Street Fest marked the second year the two have worked the event, which draws thousands of residents and visitors alike to Bluffton's Historic Old Town every fall.
Both Marignoni and Norris -- along with hundreds of other vendors -- had started setting up shop early Friday night, working with the precision of a well-oiled military operation. By 8 a.m. Saturday, they were back at it, getting linens spread and fryers set up and running.
"Mike is the oyster pro," said Norris, who is the general manager for Marley's Island Grille.
As Norris stood behind a small, ice-filled wooden boat lavishly overflowing with oysters and peeled shrimp, Marignoni -- the general manager for Skull Creek Boathouse -- assembled baskets.
"So I spent a little bit of time last year learning from him," he said, as he worked his knife with expert precision around the seam of a single. "Learning how to get faster."
While the two worked steadily Saturday, crowds filled up Calhoun Street, sampling everything from shrimp and grits to May River oysters at $5 a basket.
Just down the block, hundreds more moved slowly past artists' booths displaying everything from watercolor and giclee prints to black-and-white photography and mixed media sculpture.
"It's definitely a team effort," Marignoni said, as he called out orders.
But working the festival was worth seeing all the restaurants' familiar faces and even some new ones, he said.
"I mean we have gorgeous weather, and everyone's in a good mood," he said.
John Kirkland, who also was working the festival Saturday, seconded that notion.
While visitors formed a queue to pick up one of four buses running to and from the festival from nearby Red Cedar Elementary School, Kirkland moved from bus to bus seeing how many more could board.
"This (year's route) is a much more efficient route," said Kirkland, who not only serves on the festival's board but works as its parking and transportation director.
Kirkland said he was pleased with how the festival's shuttle service was working, since they decided to tweak it slightly from last year.
The buses were now picking up festivalgoers every 8 to 10 minutes, he said, down from the previous year's 10 to 12 minutes -- something he was quite pleased with.
"We just wanted to make sure no one was waiting longer than they had to," he said.
And while those moving behind the scenes worked to ensure everything went smoothly Saturday, visitors like Tammy Selinger -- a Bluffton transplant by way of New Jersey -- was just having fun taking it all in.
Selinger had already tried a sweet and spicy taco and was now sampling the lobster mac and cheese.
And how did she find the lobster?
"Oh my god," she said, as a blissful smile spread across her face. "This is so good."
If You Go
It's not too late to get in on the fun. The Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival's Street Fest continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, featuring more than 100 local and regional artists, seafood and Lowcountry cuisine, music, entertainment and children's activities.
In addition, the "Art of Cuisine" Iron Chef Challenge will start with cooking demos at 10 a.m., and the cooking challenge follows at noon at Neptune's Galley on the corner of Calhoun and Bridge streets. Watch as top chefs from the area compete to create the best seafood dishes.
Since streets in Old Town will be closed, parking won't be available in the historic district. However, free shuttle service, including handicap-accessible shuttles, will be available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Red Cedar Elementary School, 10 Box Elder St., Bluffton.
Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.