The areas first oyster festival has origins dating back four decades ago, to late October 1978 in Ocean Isle Beach. ‘Fishing and oyster eating will highlight the South Brunswick islands annual oyster festival to be held Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 26 – 29,” heralded the Oct. 19, 1978, issue of The Brunswick Beacon. Highlights included a fishing rodeo sponsored by operators of all three piers in Holden, Ocean Isle and Sunset beaches. Prizes of $20 were to be awarded to the biggest fish caught at each pier in 10 classifications, from blues to whiting. The entry fee was 50 cents. The festivals one-day-only oyster roast took place that Saturday at the Ocean Isle Beach Airport “in the heart of the South Brunswick Islands.”
“If you never had enough oysters roasted in the shell, or if you have never experienced eating oysters from the shell, here’s your chance,” the article promised. “If the weather happens to be inclement, the oyster roast will be held inside one of the hangers at the airport.” On the menu were “fresh local oysters.” “It’s the time of year in the islands area when the weather is beautiful, the crowds have gone and fishing, golf, and relaxation are great,” the story read, citing possible reasons why chamber leaders had scheduled the new festival as a local seasonal celebration. For the third festival in 1980 NASCAR star and North Carolina native Richard Petty came to South Brunswick Islands to give out awards and greet the growing oyster festival.
There was a six-mile run in Holden Beach, a bike race in Sunset beach and a Saturday-night street dance in Calabash. Overall festival attendance was “more than 700 strong,” with 150 pounds of oysters and 250 pounds of fish consumed and 50 cooks on hand to prepare them. Petty was “a favorite of the festival crowds all day and enjoyed the events all day as did his wife and little girl,” the Beacon reported. The festival wrapped up with about 200 street dancers who “thronged a huge parking lot between two seafood restaurants and gyrated frantically to the music of Dixie Driver, a five-peace rock band.”