Cook up a bunch of crawfish, spread it all out across a long table, and as people start peeling, they inevitably get to talking. The hands-on work of really getting after a crawfish boil forges easy connections — most fleeting, some lasting and substantial.
Chris “Shaggy” Davis sees it happen Sunday afternoons when he sets up his NOLA Crawfish King trailer outside d.b.a. for the Frenchmen Street club’s weekly boil, where regulars, tourists and New Orleans musicians dig in together, elbow to elbow. And he sees it across the country when he stages huge crawfish boils at events and festivals, which not coincidentally tend to have strong Louisiana music contingents on their schedules.
Next week, Davis will be stirring those ingredients for a new, homegrown music and food festival held in conjunction with NOLA Brewing Co. and event producer Live for Live Music.
“It’s crawfish, music, beer, that’s what it’s all about,” Davis said. “This is bringing it all together. We’re all in on this.”
On two stages, the funk- and jam-heavy music line up has names like Ivan Neville, Jon Cleary, John “Papa” Gros, the Honey Island Swamp Band, Papa Mali and June Yamagishi. Some will be playing together in special collaborations. A band dubbed the Crawfsh Fest All-Stars, for instance, is composed of Meters legend George Porter Jr., Dave Malone of the Radiators, Terene Higgins, Billy Iuso and special guest Anders Osborne. More guest sit-ins are expected (see the full schedule at nolacrawfishfest.com).
Daily tickets (which start at $35) include a basket of crawfish and a beer.
More of both will be for sale throughout the festival, along with other crawfish dishes and a menu from McClure’s Barbecue, the low-and-slow eatery located in the NOLA Brewing Taproom.
The Irish Channel brewery will have different beers flowing from its 24 taps, and it has concocted a special beer for the festival called “No Daze Off.” It’s a blonde ale with lemon, orange and ginger that was tailored to pair with boiled crawfish.
Davis’ crawfish have a distinct but not overwhelming spice, with a strong citrus flavor, a hint of clove and a savory trickle of vinegar flavor running through the mix. He plans to boil 5,000 pounds of mudbugs over the three-day festival.
Music and mudbugs
Music indirectly led Davis into the crawfish game, and it’s become a cornerstone of his growing business, NOLA Crawfish King.
A Chicago native, he was following the Grateful Dead on tour in 1991 when he ended up in New Orleans and decided to stay for a spell, which of course has proven much longer than expected.
He started hosting crawfish boils for friends in his backyard and eventually the hobby turned into a vocation.
Davis once had an eatery in Mid-City called Shaggy’s, though event catering later became his focus. From its current home base in Arabi, NOLA Crawfish King provides boils at events and festivals around the country, and each summer Davis caters a backstage crawfish feast for musicians and crew at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee.
Davis conceived NOLA Crawfish Festival as another draw for the midweek stretch between Jazz Fest weekends. The crawfish are coming in strong at this point of the season, musicians are in town for Jazz Fest gigs and New Orleans is filled with visitors eager to explore the city outside the gates of the Fair Grounds. The event’s schedule, from 3 p.m.-10 p.m. each day, was configured to give locals a chance to attend after work as well.
“When people from out of town show up at a crawfish boil, they’re seeing a real part of New Orleans culture,” he said. “I think we’ll be showing them the real deal here.”
A portion of proceeds from ticket sales will go to The Brett Thomas Doussan Foundation, a New Orleans-based nonprofit supporting mental health advocacy.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.