In a Year of Change, the Shad Planking Tradition Perseveres
Yes, it rained at the 2016 Shad Planking. We monitored the weather all week, and we knew it was coming. By early afternoon, the 68th annual Shad Planking was a sea of umbrellas. Despite the soggy weather, more than a thousand people came out to the Wakefield Sportsmen’s Club on April 22 for a day of music, speeches, wine and whiskey tastings—and roasted shad.
The Wakefield Ruritans lit the fire in the wee hours, butterflied the shad, and nailed them to planks. They placed the planks outward at first, letting the boards soak up the heat and smoke. In late morning, the planks were turned inward to let the shad finish roasting. Simmering nearby was a vat of special sauce, a blend of “ketchup, kerosene, and napalm,” if you believed one fire-keeper. You didn’t need a dinner bell to let folks know the fish was ready; they began lining up well before it was served, and it went quickly.
This year the Wakefield Ruritans made several changes to the event, the first of which was changing the day from Wednesday to Friday. (Ironically, Wednesday’s weather was Chamber of Commerce perfect.) In years past the event was held the same day as the General Assembly reconvene session, making it difficult for lawmakers to hightail it to Wakefield in time for the shad and speeches.
The second was adding grapes and grains, which brought in several wineries and distilleries, as well as people who enjoy those beverages. With the lousy weather, festivalgoers spent a lot of time at those tents, and sales were brisk. Taste-testers were asked to vote for their favorite wine at the event, and this year James River Winery claimed bragging rights. Their award was an actual shad plank, which we hear will take a place of honor in the JRW tasting room.
In addition to voting for the best wine at the festival, folks strolled through the CAMS booth and voted in the Presidential Straw Poll by dropping a raw peanut in their candidate’s basket (Wakefield is peanut country after all). Not surprisingly, Donald Trump won easily, with 82 votes, followed by Ted Cruz (40), and John Kasich (27). On the Dem side, Hillary and Bernie tied, with nine votes each.
Absent this year were the Confederate flaggers, who chose not to pay for a booth. The anticipated Sign Wars were reduced to a mere dust-up, with only a few planted at the entrance.
Serving shad is tradition and it will continue, according to event organizers. However, it is bony and oily, and you either love it or hate it; there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. Conservative blogger Gabby Hoffman, who made the trip from northern Virginia with her father, liked it, but another festivalgoer described it this way: “Imagine smelling fish and then licking a plate of olive oil and salt. That’s what it tastes like.”
No doubt he headed for Little Piggy’s Wurst Nightmare. Their truck was set up near the stage, so you could stuff your face with their killer BBQ (sold out by the end of the day) while catching the line-up of speakers. The only problem was figuring out how to hold your umbrella and eat a messy sandwich at the same time.
There were 19 speakers this year, including candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and the 4th District seat in Congress. A few other special guests, including Brian Moran (D), Secretary of Public Safety; Senator Ryan McDougle (R-4); former Governor Jim Gilmore; and former Lt. Governor John Hager, also spoke. The underlying theme of the speeches was jobs, the economy, and the Shad Planking history and tradition. Everyone was just happy to be there. Gubernatorial candidate Rob Wittman (R) said the Shad Planking is a “great opportunity to come together and really talk about the future of our nation and the future of our Commonwealth.”
Delegate and businessman Glenn Davis (R-84), a candidate for Lt. Governor, said, “We want to bring back jobs. . . . We need an entrepreneur to do it.” He had rolled in early, parking his new RV among the pines and setting up soft-pretzel service for the crowd. Chesapeake City Councilwoman Dr. Ella Ward (D) had a booth and spoke about her candidacy for the 4th District seat in Congress. Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17), also a candidate for Lt. Governor, spoke and manned a booth.
During the program, Sen. Reeves, Delegate Nick Freitas (R-30), and Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) surprised emcee Martha Boneta with a commendation recognizing her as a champion of property rights for all Virginians. “Free elections without property rights is nothing more than the ritualistic selection of who gets to take our stuff,” Freitas told the audience. “Property rights are essential to freedom.” When Martha’s property rights were challenged, “she went to Richmond. She made a difference, and she did it not just by being tenacious, but by being incredibly friendly in the process.”
Throughout the day, Martha didn’t seem to mind the rain or that fact that her shoes were soaked. Her passion and enthusiasm for Virginia, Virginia politics, and the Shad Planking dazzled through the drizzle, and she was just as happy and upbeat at the end of the day as she was early in the morning. When her duties were finished, she was eager to talk to the press about the tradition of the Shad Planking and why it’s important to keep it alive and thriving.
“It was truly an exceptional day,” she told Black & Blonde media. “I am just so thrilled that we had such a successful occasion today. I look forward to next year. What a beautiful, joyful occasion that we all had.”