Until this trip, I’d never heard of this festival. Their website shows 2017 to be their 28th annual celebration, which after going yesterday, makes me wonder what year number thirty will feature.
The drive up took us just under two hours given what Waze described as a ‘hazard.’ That hazard prompted us to get off Interstate 495 to MA-133 through Andover, North Andover, Georgetown, Rowley, briefly touching Newburyport before crossing into Salisbury, finally ending up on NH-1A in Hampton.
Understandably, the boardwalk was blocked off to traffic, so any access road would be a longer wait than normal. Traffic direction was adequate with Hampton Police and rotating members of the New Hampshire Air National Guard.
We arrived around 4PM, finding only a few permitted spots to park; number 88 became ours for the next three and a half hours.
Entry was straightforward: $10 per person, earning you a green bracelet – cash only (one would think the Chamber of Commerce would get with the times and have a card reader present).
On your left, were the usual boardwalk shops and cafes. On your right, all the product and service vendor tents that lined for miles. I was pleased to see the number of vendors taking plastic in our digital age. PayPal and Square stickers were seen in many tents. The only vendors I saw that didn’t take plastic were the entrance tickets and the seafood vendors.
I don’t typically get into live entertainment, but as we were making our way back to our vehicle to add more time to our parking pass, we caught a small part of the Jimmy Connor act.
After plugging the meter, we re-entered, making a second pass through the festival, mostly people-watching. We stopped by the souvenir tent so my mom could browse – I might have joined her, but it looked as crowded as the seafood tent was. It might have been forty-five minutes and she emerged, prompting us to start visiting boardwalk shops.
The arcade, shooting range, and the casino area were packed as they usually are. While the t-shirt shops are a staple to boardwalks, this one was run by a vendor who either had a strong conservative lean, or knew that those shirts would sell. The most prevalent shirts were pro-gun and anti-terrorist shirts, following them were sex-themed, and the ‘minority’ of shirts featured catch-phrases updated for today’s generation. Needless to say, I added three pro-gun t-shirts to my collection.
As we continued, the crowd was continuing to thin out. Further down the boardwalk, there is a section with a brick sidewalk featuring a downward incline. Ten dollar tarot readings, henna tattoos, a shop selling the plastic equivalent to a bean bag chair, and some jewelry vendors were along this path. I’ve always thought they were in an awkward spot from a sales perspective, but they all seem to return every year, so they must be doing something right.
Our final stop before heading out was Blink’s Fry Doe. They’re considered a staple to the Hampton Beach experience, with most food review sites confirming it. I don’t think I’ve seen their storefront change in over a decade, and I think their register is the same computer that looks like something out of the 90s. They’ve never taken credit cards, but I suppose if you only operate during the summer season, there’s probably no point (and I say this as an ardent supporter of businesses accepting plastic).
Even though the night entertainment would be getting started around 8PM, with vendors shutting down on the boardwalk, the public followed. At that point, it was either people heading out to dinner, people heading to the stage area to catch whatever band was due up, or people heading for a party.
On the way back to the car, I noticed another fixture to many festivals: The one guy who wants to talk to everyone about Jesus, and explain why non-belief will cause you to end up in hell. I’ve seen guys similar to him argue with those of different faiths – sometimes it’s amicable, other times it turns into a “if you don’t believe the way I do, you’re doing it wrong.” While I’m not opposed to conversing with the guy because I’m all about civic discussion, I wasn’t interested in explaining a differing point of view in the middle of a beach boardwalk (I might have been more interested had my GoPro been on me). He reminded me of “the pen guy from my time at UWM who would take up different spots on campus; the most frequent spot was in the front part of the UWM Library across from Sandburg Hall.
As we headed back toward Interstate 95, I thought back on the cottage some friends and I rented in the mid 2000s. There was plenty of boardwalk action for us, but the vast majority of the time was partying late, sleeping in, and just general summer fun.
Had I known that this festival was coming, I would have brought my GoPro so people would have the visual experience. Twitter trended the hashtag #hbsf17, but I decided that it wasn’t going to be worth it for me.
Overall, if you’re a seafood person, there’s no shortage of seafood, and they do feature enough live entertainment to keep everyone busy. Given that I saw license plates from states outside New England, it goes to show that events aren’t strictly local anymore. The only thing I might do different in the future is use it as a long weekend. With some proactive planning after the new year comes around, one could likely reserve a cottage or motel during that time.