Held on the Historic Little River Waterfront in Little River SC, the World Famous Blue Crab Festival is renowned as one of the largest festivals in the Southeast were locals and vacationers alike gather to enjoy fresh local seafood from waterfront restaurants and street venders while also appreciating the charming scenic views and the lively sounds of local music bands. Too, souvenirs and gifts may be purchased from the many area crafters, and a kid’s zone offers a variety of entertainment & activities for the little ones.
Little River is located in Horry County, South Carolina and is the oldest, and one of the most unique towns along the greater Grand Strand. The area is celebrated for its fresh seafood, fishing charters, historic centuries-old live oak trees, and is also home to generations of charter and commercial fishermen and shrimpers all contributing to it being one of the last communities on the Grand Strand where a slower pace of life can still be enjoyed.
Its geographic location twenty miles to the north of the hustle and bustle of the resort town of Myrtle Beach offers residents and visitors alike the chance to share more peaceful days in a quaint fishing village atmosphere.
Having a population of just 8,960 year round residents it is named for the Little River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean at the border between North and South Carolina. And, as a consensus designated place (CDP), and therefore an unincorporated small community Little River doesn’t receive any municipal financial support to offset the expenses and the overhead of hosting a festival. Therefore, it relies solely on the contributions of its supporters’ who purchase tickets, t-shirts, crafts and souvenirs in order to make the festival’s success possible. And, although the festival goal is not intended to be profitable, any profits realized are reinvested back into the Little River Community.
The communal has a total area of 10.8 square miles, of which 10.5 square miles is comprised of land and 0.4 square miles (3.33%) is water with the topography being mostly old scrub pine forests, marshes and swamps and is bordered by the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Intracoastal waterway with live oaks, Spanish moss and palm trees also dotting the landscape.
The Blue Crab Festival has consistently been recognized as the Best Annual Food Festival on the South Carolina Grand Strand. And, what began in 1981 as a small waterfront gathering is now in its 38th year and has grown into a premier event that draws visitors from around the country. When the festival initially began, its key purpose was to attract guests to the historic waterfront in support of the local restaurants, small businesses, lodgings, and the entire Little River community as a whole. In the beginning, only a few vendors were keen on being a part of the new event that was set up under the mossy live oak trees from whence the festival was born.
Then, over the years live music and entertainment were introduced along with a multitude of local seafood specialties, and unique artists & crafters. And, now, nearly four decades later it has become a local tradition with families planning their vacations around it, and it routinely sells out the more than 300 available vendor spaces by March of each year. Consequently, it has become one the longest running street festivals in the Southeast where all of the attendees and vendors alike have a wonderful experience and create cherished lifelong memories.
In past years, the festival has simultaneously hosted a beauty pageant, a 5K run, a blessing of the bikes, a car show, and other open-air activities adjacent to the scenic waterfront. All of these were presented in an effort to expand the festival audience and to enhance the fun family atmosphere while promoting the various attributes of the Little River community to area residents and visitors.
During my visit to the crab festival, I was first impressed by the exceptional organization of the event that made it a no-hassle experience to attend. There was adequate signage along the nearby highway leading into Little River directing traffic to the event, and low fee Satellite parking lots had been set up in restaurant and shop parking lots nearby. Included in the parking fee were golf cart or shuttle bus rides to and from the main event area that were a pleasurable experience in itself as the open-air ride gave one the opportunity to converse with the drivers who were mostly youthful local volunteers. As well, there was a water taxi operating out of the Harbourgate Marina in Myrtle Beach for those who opted for water instead of land transit.
As well, purchasing entry tickets and receiving a re-entrance wrist ban was efficient and administered by courteous and light hearted local volunteers whose friendly southern demeanor only added to the blissful atmosphere. Too, it was apparent that they truly enjoyed their role in hosting the event for their guests.
The fest was held on a glorious spring day and most of the area was shaded by huge oak trees, their Spanish ivy covered boughs providing a cool and comfortable atmosphere for strolling along on the paths that ultimately lead to the Little River and its charming waterside restaurants with open air bars where people could sit and relax while enjoying a more formal sit down meal and drinks.
After I arrived and walked along my first hint that I was nearing the site was a whiff of freshly prepared and seasoned seafood promising a cornucopia for the palate as blue crabs, seafood Jambalaya, alligator kabobs, steamed corn on the cob and much more were in the offering. As well there were hot dogs, hamburgers and other quick-bite foods as is typical at food fairs.
My favorite stop was the “Poppin John” homemade ice cream-stand whose antique ice cream maker was powered by a 1926 John Deere “Model E Hit and Miss Gas Engine.” The name comes from the speed control on these engines: that fire ("hit") only when operating at or below a set speed, and cycle without firing ("miss") when they exceed their set speed. This is as compared to the "throttle governed" method of speed control. The sound made when the engine is running without a load is a distinctive "POP whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, POP" as the engine fires and then coasts until the speed decreases and it fires again to maintain its average speed. I purchased a cup of my favorite chocolate flavor that was just delectable.
In addition to the crab feast and other attractions in Little River, it is also home to two casino gaming ships. For the twenty-one years that South Carolina had offered legalized video poker Little River's location near the North Carolina state line made the community a major center for legal gaming activity. However, in 1996 local churches initiated protesting legalized gambling in what had become “Little Reno” resulting in gaming being legally banned in 2000. However, two years prior to the ban casino boats had begun operating out of the area and they continue to do so today into federal waters because the state has not specifically banned them from operating out of SC. Therefore, Little River continues to have the Palmetto state's only two casino boats operated by Big M Casino that offers games of chance including slot machines, Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Let-it-Ride and 3 Card Poker. As well they offer patrons an optional all-you-can-eat buffet, live entertainment, and alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. The casino boats were a surprise discovery to me where I may try my luck in the future.
So, all-in-all my visit to the Little River World Famous Blue Claw festival was one of discovery and enjoyment that I look forward to repeating again next year as I continue to explore my new home of South Carolina.