If you were to make a bingo card for common sights at spring festivals in south Louisiana, you’d definitely want a square for crawfish. Fruit lemonades, bands onstage, dancers twirling in the grass, straw hats and sunscreen would all be worthy squares, but nothing says “spring” quite like boiled mudbugs.
Since 1975, the Louisiana Crawfish Festival in St. Bernard Parish has been highlighting the crustacean socialite of the season.
From March 31 through April 3, the Knights of Columbus Archbishop Rummel Council 5747 will welcome all comers for a four-day fete at the Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette. Attendees can enjoy live music, carnival rides, crafts and flavorful food for every palate.
There will be hot boiled crawfish — at least 15,000 pounds of it — plus crawfish bread, crawfish cheese dip, crawfish boudin balls, crawfish chimichangas, crawfish pizza, crawfish sausage, crawfish egg rolls, crawfish potatoes, crawfish pies, crawfish cakes, crawfish po-boys, crawfish sauces ladled on top of other Louisiana seafood … the list goes on.
“We have crawfish any different way you can imagine,” said festival chairman Cisco Gonzales.
And the abundance of mudbugs doesn’t reduce demand, Gonzales said.
“Casanova’s Seafood does our boiling there. They have a minimum of eight burners. We go through over 15,000 pounds on an average year, over 25,000 pounds on a good year. … Sometimes they can’t even keep up with the crowd.”
Of course, some folks just don’t have a taste for seafood. More than 30 food vendors round out the menu with a buffet of familiar and offbeat festival favorites, like sno-balls, cheese steaks, hot dogs, nachos, corn dogs and tamales.
The cornucopia of menu options shows how widely the festival has grown in the past 41 years. Gonzales has served as chairman since 2006 but attended the festival as a boy.
“In 1975, we started off as cooking our own crawfish, cooking our own food, with five or six rides. We grew to where we are today: We get over 100,000 walking through our gates, a minimum of 27 rides, over 30 food vendors, over 30 craft vendors. Music back in the day was nothing; now we have nine bands in four days.”
Gonzales estimated that nearly all the vendors who work at the festival are repeat vendors. “We just don’t lose vendors usually. … I get 700 or 800 emails a year from people who want to get in.”
The party is not without its purpose. The festival serves as the Knights of Columbus council’s largest annual charitable fundraiser.
“We grew from a mom-and-pop, per se, giving only maybe $8,000 to $10,000 a year to charity, to more than six digits a year to charity,” Gonzales said.
The all-volunteer effort to present the festival pays in rich dividends to the St. Bernard community.
“We’re all about charity. … We’re just motivated by the money we can make and give it back to the community,” Gonzales added.
The Knights of Columbus directly or indirectly provides assistance to Children’s Hospital, all schools in St. Bernard Parish, Relay for Life, the Cancer Society and more. The council also distributes toys and meals during the winter holiday season.
“It’s just the motivation that makes people smile. My favorite saying is, ‘My smile is coming from someone else’s smile, that we made them happy.’ Not only did we make them happy at the festival for four days, we can also make them happy when the money that we make can make someone else happy and have an easier life.”
The Louisiana Crawfish Festival will be open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, from 5 p.m. to midnight Friday, from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5, with pay-one-price ride armbands available for $15 Thursday, and $25 each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For information, visit louisiana crawfishfestival.com.