The host was dead and buried. The widow stayed home and received visitors in the cool of her living room. But there are strong traditions here along the banks of the Annemessex River and about 2,600 people proved once again today that the J. Millard Tawes Carb and Clam Bake still ranks foremost among them.

Before the sun set on the lower Eastern Shore, 50 kegs of beer had been consumed, along with 44,000 clams - fired, steamed and raw - 100 bushels of crabs, 400 dozen ears of corn, plus onion rings, fried fish, fired sweet potatoes and a modest supply of soft drinks.

As Ralph Shockly, a voracious clam-eater, put it: "If you can't get your money's worth here, it's your own damn fault."

This year's even came one month after the death at age 85 of its fun-loving founder, John Millard Tawes, a Crisfield native who served as Maryland's governor from 1959 to 1967. The spirit of the day was undiminished and the attraction strong enough to lure Gov. Harry Hughes, Comptroller Louis Goldstein and thousands of others down here for the day.

Hughes and his wife, Pat, arrived by boat from Solomons and visited Tawes' widow, Helen Avalynne Gibson Tawes, at her home before venturing down to the American Legion grounds to taste the crabs and clams.

In most years, Hughes would have been but one of scores of state politicians on the scene. $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE This year, however, there was little to politic about and the crowds, while sweltering in the mid-afternoon sun, were at least able to enjoy the day without bumping into glad-handing public officials.

"Its kind of like a getting-together for us in these lower shore counties," said Richard Carey, a beer distributor from Salisbury. "Its an excuse to take one day off that nobody begrudges you."

Beer, all you could drink, came with the $12 admission price, but a mug cost $1.50 extra, so from noon until 4 p.m. Cindy Wilson worked nonstop selling the essential vessels. "I got so busy," Wilson sighed, "every beer I've gotten has gotten hot before I could drink it."

Indeed the high humidity and heat affected some of the revelers. From nearby Berlin, a chartered bus had brought a contingent of celebrants who after an hour or two were ready to travel back home. "It's hotter than the hinges of hell," said Susan Moore, wife of Worcester County state's attorney Joseph Moore.

"If hell's any hotter," responded fellow traveler Sarah Thompson, "we all gotta change our ways "cause I don't want to go there."

Not complaining about the heat was Ocean City Mayor Harry Kelley, who proclaimed this summer seas "the best ever" for his resort community, despite the energy crisis.

This year's attendance was slightly below the 2,700 who came to last year's event. The net proceeds will go to a foundation formed to collect and maintain the papers, photographs and memorabilia of the late governor.

Most of those attending crowded under three large tents. Clam knives were available for $1.50 with a $1 refund if returned.

All 20 "hospitality spaces," reserved for persons or companies buying at least 20 tickets, had been sold but there were several no-shows. Among the missing, organizers said, was a California firm that had purchased its tickets before bidding unsuccessfully on a Crisfield city sewer contract. CAPTION: Picture, Gov. and Mrs. Harry Hughes pitch in at the crab fest held yesterday in honor of the late Gov. Millard Tawes. By John McDonnell - The Washington Post