EVENT PREVIEW: Downtown Dublin to mark 30th Main Street anniversary with 'Good Times' of crawfish boil
The Courier Herald – May 4, 2019
Officials with the Downtown Development Authority, to mark Dublin’s 30th anniversary as a Georgia Main Street city, chose to hold what, locally, will be a first-of-its-kind event that invokes one of the Deep South’s oldest and most unique forms of celebration.
For centuries, groups of people in the region, taking after those along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts who originated the practice, have made a tradition out of getting together for a good old-fashioned seafood boil. Cooking up meat like shrimp, crab or – more specifically to Louisiana – crawfish, in a big pot with potatoes, corn, vegetables and sausage has become a time-honored way of observing just about any type of special occasion.
And that’s just how Downtown Dublin hopes to bring the community together next Saturday as it stages an all-day street festival, surrounding a Cajun-style crawfish boil, complete with food, fellowship and live music. Organizers are calling this first-ever event the Bon Temps Crawfish Festival (pronounced bon-tomps), whose title abbreviates the French phrase "Laissez le bon temps rouler," translated "Let the good times roll."
The community-wide bash will run from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 11, on a two-block segment of West Jackson Street that will be closed off from traffic for the day as guests enjoy food and drinks, live music, fun activities and more than 2,000 pounds of fresh crawfish and the fixin’s that will be cooked up and served throughout the afternoon.
"We're really excited to try something different,” said DDA director Tara Bradshaw.
Admission to the event is $20 per person, and includes a pound of crawfish, with sides, to enjoy as well as a wristband granting access to the live entertainment and a “crawbaby carnival” of attractions geared toward kids: inflatable slides, carnival rides, games and art activities. Children under the age of 12 will be admitted free with an adult, though they’ll have to share their parents’ crawfish or buy their own pound (any additional serving is $12).
“We're bringing that street party to West Jackson Street,” said organizer Elizabeth Coleman. “There’ll be so much going on.”
Richard Mascaro of Company Supply and Rob Shaffer of Deano’s Italian will oversee the process of cooking the crawfish in a curbside kitchen right in the middle of the festivities.
Cajun cuisine is right in the wheelhouse of Mascaro, who is a Louisiana native and serves several crawfish-based dishes on the menu of the downtown rotisserie bistro. The crustacean, however, tends to be pared down to its meatiest parts when found in more formal dining. For this event, as with a traditional crawfish boil one would attend in Louisiana, the “mudbugs,” as they’re colloquially called, are cooked and served whole.
For this event, they’ll be traveling to Covington, Louisiana, where much of Mascaro’s family lives, and buying anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of freshly-caught crawfish the Thursday before the event. In bayou-rich communities like this one, crawfish is a major industry.
"The guy we're getting the crawfish from sells about 50-60,000 pounds of crawfish,” Mascaro said. "Shrimp and crawfish are probably the two largest things fished in Louisiana, and a lot of crawfish are farm-raised… There are a lot of natural crawfish in Louisiana, but there are people who own bayou land and they go through the process of making that land more of a nutrient-rich environment for crawfish. Just like oysters, 90 percent of what we use in the restaurant are farm-raised. Oystering and crawfishing are fun to go out and do, but in these places, they're raising those and cultivating them from natural resources."
The catch will be washed and sacked on Thursday morning, kept alive on the trip to Dublin overnight and through Friday before being washed again and cooked on Saturday morning.
“They're kind of delicate,” Mascaro said. “They're a live organism, and they live in 70-plus degree water. They live down at the bottom in ponds, so you have to be kind of delicate with them, icing them and transporting them. When all is said and done, we hope to maximize the amount of living crawfish… We're going to ice them down and transport them on our trailer at night to keep them at a temperature-rich environment they like, and take care of them and pet them and sing songs to them… And then we're going to drop them in the boiling water."
Mascaro, Shaffer and plenty of helping hands will be set up to cook the crawfish in about 120 different boilers that'll be set up in a makeshift kitchen outside of Company Supply, using a portion of the street and sidewalk all the way down to the new CurryMaffett Insurance headquarters.
"We'll be boiling crawfish, potatoes, corn, andouille sausage, garlic and celery,” Mascaro said.
For those not interested in the traditional fare, other options will be available from vendors including hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecue by Dexter Meat Company and other fair-style concessions elsewhere along the street. Company Supply and Deano’s will also be open their regular hours and serving guests outside the fenced-in area.
Craft beers, wine and cocktails will be available for purchase, though no outside alcoholic beverages will be allowed. The full bar will also be open at both restaurants, and beverages can be taken out into the street and sidewalk area as long as they remain in a provided plastic cup.
The festival will host a number of arts and crafts merchants that will be set up along the street. Three live music acts, two of them from Dublin, are also scheduled to perform.
Local country singer-songwriter Scott Brantley, backed by his “Big Cooler Crew,” will take the stage early in the afternoon. He will be followed by the jazz, R&B and funk music of Cliché, which features Dublin native Curtis Barlow on saxophone, together with other horns, percussion and vocals.
The headline band is Macon-based Reggie Trombone Love, which plays a blend of funk, soul and jazz along the lines of what you’d hear street-side in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The group will take the stage as the event wraps up from 6 to 8 p.m. Downtown stores will also be open extended hours (most through 6 p.m.) for visitors to shop.
The festival will look to capture many of the unmistakable sounds, smells and tastes of Louisiana, for which crawfish could easily serve as a cultural mascot.
The food has been an inseparable part of cuisine in the Mississippi River Delta from the beginnings of human population in the bayou region, where the cultures of the French, English, Spanish, Acadian and Native American settlers residing there since Colonial eras have melded to create an entirely unique heritage, with its customs, dialect and a style of food.
Cajun culture, as we know it today, traces back to a group of people known as Canadian Maritimes – Acadians who were expelled from coastal regions of Nova Scotia following the French Revolution and migrated south to the city of New Orleans and the bayou areas surrounding it. There, they adopted much of their lifestyle from nearby Native Americans, whose sources of food were largely farming, hunting, trapping and fishing.
While game meat was generally scarce, the low-lying country there was rich with crawfish that populated the bottoms of the streams, rivers and ponds. The lobster-like creatures, for that reason, became a staple food.
"They could get a ton of crawfish and feed a lot of people," Mascaro said. "A little Cajun lore is that when the Acadians left the maritime, they were lobster fishermen, and that the lobsters wanted to be caught, so they traveled up to the ponds and bayous and shrunk.”
Crawfish and lobsters, as species, are in fact related. But the two are quite different outside their similarities in appearance, the primary difference their preferred habitat – lobsters in saltwater and crawfish mostly in fresh and brackish water.
Over the years, cooking crawfish in a boiling pot along with other common ingredients to the region became common practice.
"In the 1780s, that was the tradition," Mascaro said. "They used corn, because it was abundant, celery, peppers, bell peppers. All that was abundant in Louisiana."
Eventually, as modern times made foods not harvested in one’s particular area more available, this tradition began to take on a more significant social meaning. A crawfish boil, today, serves in Louisiana as a celebration of heritage and a means of congregating for a good time.
"The biggest tradition of crawfish, and the most important take from this and the idea of crawfish and music, is that you get your community together,” Mascaro said. “You have to keep in mind, most of the people that were doing crawfish boils were doing it for gatherings. Families would do it together, and friends would do it together. You essentially do it, and host it, to bring the people you love together and kind of hang out. In French, they call it to parley. When you parley, you kind of chill out and talk. You sit there in front of the boil, you hang out, you gather, drink a few beers, sodas, whatever they want and it's just a good time."
"I've never been to a crawfish boil where people were not happy," he added. "It's about people smiling, having a good time, listening to good music and talking."
Advance tickets can be purchased either online at eventbrite.com (find the link at the festival’s website, bontempscrawfishfest.com) or at downtown retailers and businesses.
Visit bontempscrawfishfest.com for a full list of vendors, performers and more information.