By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
As New Orleans spends the full year of 2018 celebrating its 300th birthday, the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has been joining in the revelry, as music lovers flock to the city for the 49th iteration of this unique celebration of multiple musical genres. Jazz Fest spans two weekends (always the last weekend of April, first weekend of May), however, so there’s always something of a competition among local clubs and restaurants to draw in both the local and out-of-town festgoers on the “days in between” the festival (Monday to Wednesday).
A strong contender for best in-between celebration is the NOLA Crawfish Festival, the annual three-day extravaganza produced by Chris “Shaggy” Davis, The Crawfish King. Davis, whose catering company is known for his massive crawfish boils, really knows how to throw a party. So it’s no surprise that his NOLA Crawfish Festival has become one of the must-attend events on the days in between Jazz Fest.
For 2018, Shaggy held his third annual three-day bash in the city’s Central City BBQ, which opened last year and has developed a reputation for putting out fine smoked meats and offering a great outdoor party space. During the in between, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. each day (Monday April 30 to Wednesday May 2), the lively celebration included great music, food, specialty beers and lots of convivial partying.
Monday’s bash featured sets by Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Sonic Bloom (the horn-focused band led by Eric Bloom) and Ivan Neville and Friends featuring George Porter, Jr. Closing out Monday was Dr. Klaw, an infrequent mash-up ensemble consisting of Soulive/Lettuce guitarist Eric Krasno, Lettuce/Break Science drummer Adam Deitch, Lettuce keyboardist Nigel Hall, Dumpstaphunk guitarist Ian Neville and Dumpstaphunk bassist Nick Daniels.
Tuesday’s Crawfish Festival included music from Billy Iuso and Restless Natives, The New Orleans Suspects and talented blues-guitar slinger Samantha Fish, with Jon Cleary closing out the night’s revelry. A wild crawfish eating contest took place before the Samantha Fish set, as some seriously hungry contestants had ten minutes to consume as many mudbugs as possible. The winner ate nearly five pounds of tails – the equivalent of about fifteen pounds of crawfish.
Wednesday’s fest led off with the Honey Island Swamp Band featuring guest guitarist and vocalist Cris Jacobs. After their set came Shaggy’s Crawfish Cookoff, with eleven teams using their secret ingredients to boil forty pounds of crawfish. A panel of celebrity judges, including musicians Anders Osborne and Ben Ellman, as well as two linemen from the New Orleans Saints, tasted samples from each team.
The top four teams went to the final round, judged by Al Scramuzza, the man who brought the concept of eating crawfish and doing spicy boils to New Orleans way back in the 1950s. He crowned Bayou Liberty Boilers as the contest winners, as they shared their special boil with happy onlookers. And of course, there was plenty of Shaggy’s crawfish to be had, too.
Luther Dickinson having fun with the NCF Southern Soul Revue at the NOLA Crawfish Fest at Central City BBQ in New Orleans on May 2, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon©.As partygoers picked the delicate meat and sucked on the heads, the NOLA Crawfish Festival Southern Soul Revue hit the stage. That incredibly talented band led by North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson, along with pedal steel wizard Roosevelt “The Doctor” Collier, keyboard master John Medeski, bassist Ron Johnson and drummer Terence Higgins, played a set of improvised blues rock with soul influences. Nth Power drummer Nikki Glaspie sat in on congas and guitar for a few songs, too.
Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Records Revue featuring Jeff McCarty and Eric Johanson capped off the 2018 NOLA Crawfish Festival. Benoit played scorching guitar and sang his appealing style of bayou blues with his band for the first hour. When guitarist and vocalist Eric Johanson came out, Benoit put down his guitar and went behind the drum kit. Johanson sang a few of his songs before bringing out vocalist Jeff McCarty and the band ended the performance with a few of McCarty’s soulful tunes.
When the NOLA Crawfish Fest 2018 came to a close after three days of revelry, it seemed that everyone agreed that the in-between midweek food and live music party was a major success. We’re already marking our calendars for next year’s celebration!
Our recap of the second weekend of the festival is available here. Our coverage of shows going on around New Orleans during weekend 2 of Jazz Fest here. Our recap of Shorty Fest is here. Our recap of the first weekend of Jazz Fest is here. Our recap of shows that took place during weekend 1 is here.