Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 17th 2018

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Mudbugs and Music

By Jennifer Leigh

It’s the time of the year to sit outside with a plate of crawfish while the sounds of the bayou play at the Pensacola Crawfish Festival. After three decades, most locals don’t have to be reminded.

Since 1993, the Fiesta of Five Flags has been hosting the event in downtown Pensacola to bring the community together and celebrate its history.

“The ultimate goal of the festival goes back to Fiesta’s mission to celebrate our heritage, promote tourism and build pride in Pensacola,” said Hillary Turner, artistic design and public relations director at Fiesta of Five Flags.

The weekend festivities include live entertainment, a kid’s area, eating contests and a 5K race.

“We simply want to offer a great event for our community and attract visitors to our area in hopes that their experience results in them wanting to visit year after year,” Turner said.

One of the main events of the Crawfish Festival is in the title. And straight from Duson, Louisiana, the crawfish are brought to Pensacola in great quantity—16,000 pounds to be exact. And don’t forget the other Cajun dishes such as jambalaya, seafood gumbo and étouffée.

If you’re a newbie to crawfish consumption, don’t fret.

“Although small in size, we realize that the idea of conquering your first mudbug can be overwhelming,” Turner said. “At each family-style table we provide handouts on how to eat crawfish. However, if you still find yourself having trouble, don’t worry. There should be plenty of crawfish veterans just a few seats away who can give you some pointers.”

Bayou Sounds
Not only is the cuisine authentic, but the entertainment schedule for Pensacola Crawfish Festival features plenty of Louisiana-grown acts as well.

Grammy-nominated Lost Bayou Ramblers is the headliner Friday night. The band, which was founded by two brothers Andre and Louis Michot, plays a mix of traditional Cajun music and psychedelic rock ’n’ roll—and the occasional cover in French.

“We’re from a traditional Cajun background in Lafayette,” Louis said. “After 15 years we’ve experimented and added a lot more sound.”

The band has crossed over into other realms of the music world by contributing to the “Beasts of the Southern Wild” soundtrack and touring with Arcade Fire in 2014.

“Starting the band wasn’t a big decision, someone just asked us to play a club and we were embraced,” Louis said. “You never know where it’s gonna go—I guess it was meant to be.”

The Ramblers are regulars in the festival circuit and are in the midst of a very busy festival season. While the schedule may be hectic, they never miss the opportunity to play.

“Can’t beat a live show,” Louis said. “That’s where we really get a lot of inspiration. People encourage you and we feed off of that. That’s where it all happens.

“It’s hard to be the best night of people’s lives every night, but that’s what we try to do,” he added.

Louis said he’s excited to be making a stop in Pensacola “where the Cajuns go to the beach.” And as Louisiana natives, they’re no strangers to crawfish.

“Our bass player is a crawfish farmer,” he said with a laugh.

Funk and Feathers
Closing the weekend festival is the sensory overload that is Cha Wa. The Mardi Gras Indian funk band will be making it to Pensacola just a day after their set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest.

Drummer and singer Joe Gelini founded Cha Wa in 2010 after learning Indian chants and drum styles from longtime street percussionist Norwood “Geechie” Johnson of Wild Magnolia. Vocalists in Cha Wa are Mardi Gras Indians.

“I went back to Wild Magnolia’s original recordings and really fell in love with it,” Gelini said. “I love sharing that history with people.”

Mardi Gras Indians are a generational tradition and cornerstone of pride in New Orleans African American communities. The Indian was chosen as a way to pay homage to the Native Americans that assisted escaped slaves.

“The singers are some of the most knowledgeable on the Mardi Gras Indians,” Gelini said. “We just played a show in Memphis where people weren’t necessarily aware of who we were, so it’s nice to have someone that can articulate the culture.”

Just in case you aren’t familiar either, Mardi Gras Indians are known as much for their elaborate suits as their chants. They design and sew a new suit and headdress—or crowns—every year.

“We tour all across the county throughout the year, so some of the singers will be back in the green rooms sewing their suits and beading their mosaic crowns,” Gelini said.

As for the stage show, you can bet there will be plenty of chanting and dancing.

“We try to bring Mardi Gras wherever we go all year long,” Gelini said. “There’s an energy on stage that’s so infectious you can’t help by start dancing and singing.

“We bring the street party to the stage.”

PENSACOLA CRAWFISH FESTIVAL
WHEN: Noon-11 p.m. Friday, May 1; 10 a.m.-11 p.m.  Saturday, May 2 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, May 3
WHERE: William Bartram Park, 211 Bayfront Pkwy.
COST: $5 daily or $10 for a weekend pass
DETAILS: fiestaoffiveflags.org

PENSACOLA CRAWFISH MUSIC LINEUP

Friday, May 1
4:00-5:30 p.m.   Lee Yankie
6:00-8:00 p.m.   Naughty Professor
8:30-10:30 p.m.  Lost Bayou Ramblers

Saturday, May 2
11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.  The Ryan Balthrop Band
1:00-3:30 p.m.             Blues Old Stand
4:00-6:00 p.m.             Peek
6:30-8:30 p.m.             Voodoo Gumbo
9:00-10:30 p.m.           The Daisy Dukes Band

Sunday, May 3
11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m.   Cha Wa
12:30-2:00 p.m.             Hotel Oscar
3:00-5:00 p.m.               Wayne Toups