Chairs set up along Main Street in Yarmouth to reserve spots for the parade as part of the upcoming Yarmouth Clam Festival parade. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Chelsie DiConzo had been looking forward to entering her son in the Diaper Derby, a baby race and fan favorite at Yarmouth’s annual Clam Festival. But during the event’s two-year hiatus, his chance came and went.

“We missed the Diaper Derby the first year he was eligible. So now we’re gonna adjust it to be part of big kids,” she said.

While Nick DiConzo, now 3 years old, participates in the kids’ fun run, his 1-year-old brother, Felix, will take the Diaper Derby limelight. And their mother will be busy as well – serving as the interim director of the festival as it returns for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and not without challenges.

DiConzo worked for Yarmouth’s Chamber of Commerce from 2012 to 2017 and learned all about the inner workings of the festival. In mid-April, she returned in her new role, bringing experience and a vision to the town’s 55th Clam Fest.

On the third Friday of July, every year since 1965, the town of Yarmouth has hosted the three-day festival that’s home to food stalls, arts and crafts, rides, music, and celebration of the Maine community. The festival will begin at 10 a.m. Friday with opening ceremonies on the town’s Memorial Green, followed by a number of musical performances, and then the long-awaited Clam Festival Parade. This year’s theme is “The Way Life Should Be.”

Steamer the Yarmouth Clam Festival mascot. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Starting as early as the first week of June, Yarmouth residents line the streets of the parade route with chairs in anticipation – a tradition that’s confused new people in town who haven’t experienced it before, said Yarmouth High science teacher and coach Christopher Hill, who’s in charge of this year’s student volunteers.


After the parade is Friday Night at the Fest, featuring musical performances from country singers Joseph Gallant and Toby McAllister & The Sierra Sounds.

Over the course of the weekend, there will be pancake breakfasts, burgers, the beloved lime rickey stands and, as always, a large focus on the arts.

Lori Perkins, who works as the volunteer craft show director and also sells her jewelry at the festival, said that this year, like all years, there were more applications than spots for craft-fair vendors.

“We work our best to have a good selection of everything without oversaturating the market with any one type of thing. So again, it’s very competitive, we tried to have a good selection, and lots of different price points,” Perkins said. “We have some people that have been here for years, and we have some people that are brand new.”

This year, the art show will be located near the craft fair on the North Yarmouth Academy lawn, which Perkins said makes sense because “there’s a lot of overlap.”

The Lions Club food booth raises thousands of dollars each year at the Clam Festival to fund local projects and donations to other service groups. Photo courtesy of Lions Club of Yarmouth

Shellfish, nostalgia and family-friendly fun aren’t the only reasons Yarmouth residents love Clam Fest. In the case of local high school students, it’s also about making money. Stalls at the festival serve as a big fundraiser for the senior prom and senior picnic, as well as for sports teams.


But organizing this year’s event has been far from a walk in Royal River Park.

“It’s been a great time coming back into the community, but this is unlike any festival I’ve ever seen,” DiConzo said. “The challenges that the groups are facing and how much work they’re putting into is just astounding.”

Namely, there’s been a shortage of volunteers, she said, and businesses that have donated food and equipment in the past are experiencing their own labor shortages and haven’t been able to help as much.

“It’s just sort of an indication of the times, from everything from food availability to people,” said Hill, who grew up in Yarmouth and worked on trash duty with his high school soccer team.

Beattie Quintal of Waldoboro competes in the clam shucking contest at the Yarmouth Clam Festival in 2017. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

With increasing shellfish prices and labor shortages, Hill said there was a short time where having clams at the Clam Festival was momentarily in jeopardy. But a price was negotiated, and the Yarmouth High ski team will be serving them.

Still, festival-goers are expected to return in their regular numbers, with some 100,000 attendees anticipated to descend on the normally 8,500-person town.


One addition festival-goers can expect this year is more space for families and young children, as well as more quiet spaces for those overwhelmed by the noise and crowds. For a festival geared toward children, DiConzo felt it was important to support those families.

DiConzo said that some challenges served as opportunities to rethink the festival’s focus and prioritize what’s most important.

“Every hurdle we face has given us an opportunity to look at what the festival comes down to, and we’re really looking forward to showcasing that to people, but there’s no doubt that the pandemic just completely shifted our course,” she said.

Over the pandemic pause, vendors who usually relied on the festival for income had to find new sources of revenue, companies have lost workers, and high school students have lost some collective memory of flipping pancakes and burgers for class funds.

But despite the challenges and changes, many Yarmouth residents are elated to be back.

Performer Toby McAllister, who grew up going to Clam Fest, is excited to be back – now in front of the crowd rather than in it.


“I’ve seen bands play there my whole life. It’ll be pretty cool to actually get to play on stage. To be able to have opportunities like this come about, like a Clam Festival, is a big deal for us,” McAllister said. “At this point, we’re just hoping for good weather, but if it rains, hopefully we can still rock out anyway.”

Even if the Clam Fest was harder to pull off and will be slightly different than usual, DiConzo’s goal is to show people a good time and bring them back to 2019.

“We really want to transport people to a time where we could go out and have fun and check the craft shows and meet up with friends,” DiConzo said. “We just want people to have a nice time and to feel a reprieve from all of the craziness of the last few years.”

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