Cajun Festival ends big weekend of Charleston events with record attendance
Those waiting for a taste of alligator or crawfish in the Cajun Festival’s long food lines Sunday were helping make history.
It was the biggest crowd ever since the festival started more than 20 years ago at James Island County Park.
Organizers counted 9,524 people buying tickets, breaking the record of 9,393 set in 2011.
“It was awesome,” said Matt Rosebrook, coordinator for the 22nd annual festival. “It was the biggest crowd we’ve ever had.”
Admission was $10 and raises money for the park’s many activities.
The Cajun Festival is the culmination of a weekend that also drew tens of thousands of people outdoors for the Cooper River Bridge Run from Mount Pleasant to Charleston, the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island and the Flowertown Festival in Summerville.
Good weather always helps attendance at the park, and Sunday could not have been better for getting out on the broad expanses of fresh green grass.
Temperatures were in the mid-70s, and skies were sunny and blue.
The Cajun food and Zydeco music are bedrocks of the festival, but the crowd gets the most openly excited for the annual crawfish-eating contest. They scream and cheer while contestants sitting up on a stage at a folding table see how many crustaceans they can cram down in 30 seconds.
Contestants claim all kinds of special techniques for preparing, but this year’s winners blew all those fancy theories out of the water. The crowd favorites were two sisters who had never eaten crawfish before and each won her heat. The winner of the final round also had never tasted a crawfish before Sunday.
Justina Goodman and Kendra Taylor, sisters from Asheville, N.C., came to Charleston for the Cooper River Bridge Run Saturday. They added the Cajun Festival to their schedule Sunday and decided to enter the contest on a whim.
Neither had ever eaten a crawfish before. Goodman ate 18 to win her round, and Taylor downed 21 to win hers. Each winner of the eight qualifying rounds got $25.
The sisters’ reactions to the experience were markedly different.
“I think it’s delicious, and I could eat as many as I could,” Goodman said.
“I almost vomited,” Taylor said. “I got something smooshy in my mouth, and I thought, ‘Oh, gosh.’ ”
Laurie Null, a truck driver from Summerville, won the final round, cramming down 30 crawfish in 30 seconds.
Null also had never eaten a crawfish before.
“A friend told me just to line ’em up, pop off the heads and stick ’em in my mouth, and that’s what I did,” she said.
The advice paid off. She won $50, in addition to the $25 for winning her qualifying heat.
The lines to get some of Smiling Jack’s boiled crawfish or fried alligator stretched back 35 or 40 people deep all afternoon. They were matched only by the equally long lines around the Budweiser beer stations.
Greg Mittag of Ladson put in his standing time and walked away with a steaming bowl of crawfish etoufee. This was his third Cajun festival but his first taste of that particular dish.
“I took a bite, and it was totally amazing,” he said. “It’s got a nice little zing, but it’s absolutely delicious.”
Friend Dave Flagg of Ladson joined him holding a bowl of fried alligator chunks, which looked and pretty much tasted like battered chicken nuggets.
“Gator is good,” said Flagg, who was enjoying his first festival. “It’s crowded, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Two, two stepper
Up on the main stage, Johnny Ace with Sidewalk Zydeco was belting out lead vocals while playing a piano accordion. “I’m a two, two stepper,” he sang.
Two, two stepper
People were dancing around the stage in every imaginable type of movement that seemed to match a two-step pattern.
Several young women were swinging hula hoops around their hips while they moved their feet in rhythm. Some kids were cartwheeling back in forth in the grass.
Helga Herrman of Isle of Palms was dancing in her bare feet by her folding chair a way back from the stage. It was her second Cajun festival
“I love it, that’s why I’m back,” she said.