Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
                                The Cove chef and co-owner Damien Cortez sifts through a new shipment of mussels from Penn Cove Shellfish.

Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group The Cove chef and co-owner Damien Cortez sifts through a new shipment of mussels from Penn Cove Shellfish.

Musselfest to kick off with Friday Mingle

Whidbey’s biggest party celebrating all things mussel is back and bigger than ever before for its 34th year.

Rain or shine, the fun will happen March 6-8.

Though most of the events are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Mussel Mingle on Friday, March 6 has traditionally been a time for Central Whidbey locals to unite while enjoying beer gardens and live music.

“We’ve all been hunkered down in our houses because of the gray rain,” Vickie Chambers, executive director of the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, said. “This is a time when you come out and see the neighbors that may only live four houses down from you.”

During Saturday and Sunday, mussel lovers can purchase tickets to taste chowder, participate in the eating competition or take a boat tour of the Penn Cove Shellfish farm.

“It’s the only two days of the year that the farm does tours,” Chambers said. “I don’t think people realize that.”

Chowder-tasting tickets, $10 each for four restaurants, tend to sell out fast on Saturdays, and she cautions people to buy them earlier in the day rather than later. Sunday tickets are currently available for purchase online.

This is the first year for The Cove, a new restaurant on the wharf. Chef and co-owner Damien Cortez said he and his team cooked up the idea for a “Southwestern Chipotle” style of mussel chowder.

“This is our first one, but I feel like we’re really prepared for it,” Cortez said. “I have several employees who have worked Musselfest before.”

One hidden gem of the event, the cooking demonstrations by renowned chefs, are free to attend and happen both days from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the Coupeville Rec Hall. All recipes include mussels.

And for people who aren’t thrilled about the briny, blue mollusks, several other food options are available. Vendors will be selling hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, paella and fries.

A new activity this year, kids will be able to decorate miniature models of boats made from scrap materials.

Although there are ticket fees for many of the mussel activities, it is possible to attend Musselfest without spending any money.

Live music is a big portion of the event, and it’s all free. Marcus Whiting, Tillers Folly, Burlington Rail and Steve Trembley Band will all be performing under the Penn Cove Shellfish farm tent.

Open on Saturday only, the Penn Cove Shellfish tent will give all proceeds from mussel, beer and wine sales to the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club and a STEM scholarship for a high school senior.

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