It started with a few Facebook posts and signs along the highway promoting a seafood festival near the Efland Ruritan Club. The small, September 2019 event was the brainchild of Terry Rose, president of the Hillsborough Sport Fishing Club. The organization, for the last 15 years, had used money gained from sponsorships to take wounded veterans to the coast for a fishing trip.
But sponsors can be hard to come by, and offer inconsistent support. Rose decided to take a gamble. He believed he could create an event that would attract enough of the community hungry for good, fresh seafood, and allow the Hillsborough Sport Fishing Club to continue its annual gift to local injured military veterans.
“I was thinking we’d get 150, maybe 250 people to the festival,” said Rose, a resident of Hillsborough since 1993. “We had close to 700 people show up.”
The success of the seafood festival last Fall got Rose’s wheels turning, and he has announced plans for a full-scale event. The Efland Seafood, Music & Outdoor Festival will take place April 18 at the Efland Ruritan Club. The festival will feature live music from bands including The Ocean Front Band, Moonshine Son, Gipsey Danger, The Mason Lovette Band and Duke of Elvis, an Elvis impersonator. There will be approximately 50 vendors displaying a variety of products including fishing equipment, boats and RVs. Inflatables and pony rides will be on site to entertain kids.
This time, Rose says, it won’t just be advertised on Facebook and with roadside signs.
“We’re going to promote it much more,” Rose said. “We’ve got an advertising budget. It’s going to be on 93.1 The Wolf with radio commercials and in newspapers.”
He said the reception from the public has been very positive. “We’re expecting — with good weather — 3,000 to 4,000 people. We’re combining good seafood with five bands that draw pretty darn well.”
Rose said the plan is to charge $20 for entry into the festival ($10 for kids 10 years old and under). The fee gets each person a plate of fried fish and shrimp with sides. More seafood will be available for purchase inside the gates.
“There’s going to be flounder and shrimp,” Rose said. “There will be a guy steaming oysters. There’s going to be crabs and clams. And, of course, Gator Bites. Those are pretty good.”
Hamburgers, hotdogs and barbecue will be available for non-seafood fans. Each customer will be given a wristband that distinguishes whether they’re 21 years of age or older. Red Oak Brewery will sell beer at the festival.
Rose said the event wouldn’t be possible without close to 30 volunteers, and contributions from Donald Wagner, of Hillsborough, who is donating Porta-Johns. A stage is being donated by Gary Lloyd from Efland, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office is helping out.
It’s a lot of preparation, and Rose is wearing many hats to get the vendors, volunteers, bands and food lined up. But he says it’s worth it to be able to give the wounded veterans a memorable weekend.
“We’re planning to take 150 wounded vets,” Rose said. “But we’ll take 1,000 if we can. To see the look on those guys’ faces when they’ve been through hell. When they get there (to the coast), you can see it. Some of them have all kinds of demons — all kinds of problems. But, for a few hours, and sometimes a couple days, they can let go of that stuff. They don’t think about it. It’s gone. They get to spend time with their buddies and they’re glad to be alive.”
Rose said, ultimately, his hope is for the festival to become an annual event.
“If it goes well this year, probably next year it will be Friday night and Saturday,” Rose said. “If that goes well, the following year we’ll probably do Friday night and Saturday, and to please the local community, Sunday will be gospel. No alcohol. Every church around has a group that would love to sing before a crowd of people. We’ll give them that chance.”