There’s not a much better way to spend a weekend than to be in Jekyll Island’s National Historic Landmark District noshing on shrimp, enjoying frosty beverages and listening to some of the area’s best musicians. Local residents and visitors from all over will have that opportunity once again when the annual Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival returns Sept. 20-22.
Twice honored by the Southeast Festival and Events Association as the “Best Festival,” the event attracts approximately 45,000 visitors who enjoy the food, entertainment, arts and experiences over a 30-acre site in the barrier island’s historic district.
“There’s always something exciting happening on Jekyll Island, but the Shrimp & Grits Festival over time has earned a reputation all its own,” said Alexa Orndoff, director of marketing and communications for the Jekyll Island Authority. “This is what people throughout the region look forward to all year, and it takes just as long to put this big celebration together. But it’s well worth it – we can’t wait to welcome everyone back for plenty more delicious food and family fun.”
As in most years, something new has been added. This time, it will be the debut of the “Go for the Grits” 5K road race, in partnership with Quintanar Running Co., scheduled for Sept. 22 in the historic landmark district.
So many activities fill the festival schedule it’s hard to keep track of them all. On Sept. 21, the annual shrimp and grits cooking competition will be held, with the winner receiving the title of “Georgia’s Best Shrimp & Grits.” Three former champions are returning for the showdown, and five other contenders will join them.
Restaurants that will compete include the defending champion, Eagle Creek Brewing Co., of Statesboro; West Egg Café, of Atlanta, which won in 2016, and the Jekyll Island Club Resort. Other returning competitors will be Sweet Potato Café, of Stone Mountain, and Honey Café, of Millen. Vying for the title for the first time will be The Blue Bicycle, of Dawsonville; Spring Creek Park Resort, of Donalsonville and The Lodge on Sea Island.
The competition, which this year is being sponsored by Quaker, requires competitors to use five Georgia Grown items, including wild-caught George shrimp, in their dishes. For grits, they may use either Georgia Grown stone ground grits, or Quaker Quick Grits.
In addition to the cooking competition, festival-goers can enjoy learning about wildlife and the ecosystem in the Experience Jekyll pavilion, or, in the same pavilion, attend cooking demonstrations by celebrity Chef Virginia Willis, Georgia Grown Chef Olivia Rader, Chef Matthew Raiford and Halyards, of St. Simons Island.
The menu is not limited to shrimp and grits, however. A number of food trucks will be present to offer all manner of fare.
Live music will feature local musicians on three stages — the Main Stage, in the heart of the festival grounds; the Riverfront Lawn Stage, adjacent to restaurateurs serving shrimp & grits and the Skeet House Stage, in the Artists’ Market on Pier Road. Performers will include groups, duos and soloists, and offer an array of music from easy-going acoustic to rock ‘n’ roll. There will be something for everyone.
An Artists’ Market, featuring more than 100 regional artisans, will be set up along Pier Road, and in the Georgia Grown Alley, attendees will be able to peruse and sample handmade food products from throughout Georgia.
Not to forget anyone, a Kids’ Zone, featuring inflatables, a bungee trampoline, games and arts and crafts, will also be open for the duration of the festival.
Although admission to the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits is free, there are also ways to enhance the experience, including access to two ticketed events, the Craft Brew Fest and the VIP Lounge.
The waterfront Craft Brew Fest, presented by Southern Eagle Distributing, will feature live music, yard games and more than 30 craft brew varieties.
Atlanta Magazine is once again sponsoring the VIP Lounge, across from the Main Stage. VIP guests will enjoy catered meals, unlimited beer and wine service, private restrooms, on-site parking and access to the Craft Brew Fest.
Hours for the festival are 4-9 p.m. Sept. 20, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 21 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 22. The Jekyll Island Parking Fee is $10 per vehicle each day of the festival. Full information and a complete schedule can be found by visiting jekyllisland.com/shrimpgrits.