What started as a celebration of a new bridge has grown into one of Swansboro’s premiere festivals, featuring one of Eastern North Carolina’s iconic seafood dishes.
The 59th annual Mullet Fest is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in Swansboro.
Though often mistaken for a haircut by name, the mullet is a fish with an unmistakable taste, said Randolph Thomas of the Jacksonville Rotary Club.
“It’s a very strong fish,” said Thomas. “It has a very strong, fishy taste … You can’t substitute for it. It’s a regional favorite.”
The Jacksonville Rotary Club will be frying the fish this year, a tradition that has been a part of the festival since the beginning, after the bridge over the White Oak River was built near downtown nearly 60 years ago. The bridge was finished in October, at the height of mullet season, and a tradition was born. The Rotary Club will provide the fish, coleslaw, green beans and green beans for $8 a plate, along with a glass of iced tea or water. Thomas said those who are apprehensive about trying the distinctive fish should put their inhibitions behind them and embrace the festival’s namesake.
“People have tried it before and they love it,” said Thomas. “Fried mullet goes well with coleslaw and hush puppies as well as white wine.”
But the mullet festival has grown in size and scope since the 1950s. Vendor spots have sold out, with over 100 organizations and businesses using the festival as an advertising and awareness venue. Lady Swan Boat Tours will also provide tours at the town dock. According to Judy Haley, one of the festival’s organizers, one of the biggest draws to the festival is actually the smaller crowds and community atmosphere it fosters.
“People enjoy the fact that (the Mullet Festival) is tailored to our local people,” said Haley. “The size of the festival is very user friendly. People aren’t constantly shoulder to shoulder. We don’t want to get to the point where we’re so crowded that our patrons lose interest.”
Haley said another major draw to the festival is the music, which will focus primarily on another regional favorite: beach music. Six bands are slated to play at the Pug Pavilion all day long Saturday and through the afternoon on Sunday, including the Rewind Band out of Raleigh.
The Fantastic Shakers, a long time beach music/variety band out of the Charlotte area, also boast a musical line up full of diversity, playing music that ranges from Elvis Presley to Cee Lo Green.
The celebration begins with the Mullet Festival Parade at 9 a.m. Saturday. A park and ride service for the festival can be found at Swansboro Middle School for $2 per person (children ride for free). For more information, log on to swansborofestivals.com or call 910-326-7370.
Christopher Thomas is a reporter for the Jacksonville Daily News.