Crawfish and zydeco Annual festival may have broken attendance record

The crawfish-eating contest is always a big event. Contestants battle to see who can peel and eat the most crawfish in 30 seconds.

It was Laura Black’s first Cajun Festival on Sunday, and she was having a hard time with the crawfish.

“I like the gator better than the crawfish,” said Black, who lives on James Island and manages an Ultra Tan studio. “It kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

She was one of perhaps more than 10,000 people who went to James Island County Park to sample Cajun food and music on a perfect spring day.

It was the culmination of a weekend that also drew tens of thousands people outdoors for the Cooper Bridge Run from Mount Pleasant to Charleston, the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island and the Flowertown Festival in Summerville.

Those at the Cajun Festival enjoyed the park’s wide expanses of green grass under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.

Although many of the weekend’s events drew people from all over the country, the vast majority at the Cajun Festival who were asked identified themselves as locals. Many, including Black, said they were attending for the first time.

Sunday’s crowd may have broken an attendance record, according to festival organizers.

“I feel like we were definitely more full earlier than we have in been in the past,” festival and event coordinator Oliver Sendall said around mid-afternoon Sunday. “We broke the record last year, and I feel like we’ve got at least that many again this year. There was 9,700 last year. I’d really like to feel we broke 10,000 this year.”

Attendance figures would not be known until today, after ticket sales and passes were tallied.

Susan and David Lorance of North Charleston, eating a plate of crawfish, also said they were there for the first time.

“We’ve been listening to zydeco on Pandora and decided we had to come out and see a zydeco band,” Susan Lorance said.

Mel Melton and His Wicked Mojos and Lil’ Brown and the Zydeco Travelers kept those near the stage moving to the music.

The annual crawfish-eating contest drew hundreds of spectators, who cheered on the participants with enthusiasm.

Thomas Cantele, a welder from North Charleston, won the final heat. He sucked the meat out of 35 crawfish tails in 30 seconds.

“I lined them all up and just starting popping and eating. I even bit my finger,” he said, holding up a bloody thumb.

It was his first contest, and the only preparation was seeing how fast he could eat a batch that he bought before the contest.

He won a Gold Pass, which gives him a year’s free admission to any Charleston County Park.

Two sisters were the only women in the final heat. Carolyn Hagerty downed 24 crustaceans, and sister Trisha ate 21.

“I think the women should get some recognition,” Carolyn said afterward.

Reach Dave Munday at ?937-5553.