How do you follow up all of the many public and private family July 4th Celebrations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast?
You go to the annual “CRAB FEST” in Bay Saint Louis, also known locally as “The Bay.”
Crab Fest is the 24th Annual, mid-summer fund-raiser event for Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church and Our Lady Academy located just off the beach in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, the same area that was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina when it came ashore as a Catagory 3 Hurricane on August 29, 2005. Crab Fest officials estimate that attendance at this year’s event will be a record 50,000+ people.
A good part of that same downtown “old town” area surrounding the church has been or is in the process of being rebuilt, including several of the facilities of the St. Stanislaus College next to the church.
When the Fest grounds opened for business Saturday morning, dozens and dozens of local volunteers were ready to serve up mounds and mounds of seas food delights, including all kinds of crab dishes, shrimp, catfish, oysters and other seafood delicacies to Fest goers during this weekend.
In addition, there were areas on the grounds where many dozens craft vendors had set up their tents to try to entice Fest goers to purchase their crafty wares. And of course, a fest just wouldn’t be a good fest without all the carnival rides for youngsters and adults alike.
I was privileged to be invited to attend the Bay Crab Fest by Master Naturalist Buddy John and our mutual good friend and co-worker, Andrea, and her husband, Ralph. John brother, Bill and his friend, Melanie, from Dothan, Alabama were also on hand to join in the festivities.
We all met at Andrea and Ralph’s home in Pass Christian, and then made our way over the new $266 million Bay of St. Louis bridge, over to the city of Bay of Saint Louis, and turned left on Beach Road the short distance to the Catholic Church and the Crab fest grounds.
Andrea rode over to the fest with me, while Ralph chauffeured the other three folks in his car.
Andrea and I found a place to park within a few yards of the CSX railroad tracks, about a 5 minute walk to the church grounds, and wouldn’t you know, there was a freight train just about across the Bay railroad bridge approaching within a short distance of my car. The tracks run right along the Crab Fest grounds, so close that the back of the display tents were literally only a few feet from the tracks. During the several hours we were at the Fest, several freight trains passed through, adding to the distinct ambience of the event.
There was a large crowd at the Fest when we arrived, probably around 2,000-3,000 people, at that 2:30pm time. There were even several residents of the Hancock County Jail on hand to change trash bags, and haul ice and beer around the grounds. Hey, why not put those fellow to work for a good cause?
The first on our agenda was to take a quick look around the grounds, and then head for the large “T”-shaped pavilion where all the different foods were for sale.
We all bought crab and fish-related entrees, various cups of beer and my bottle of water, and searched for a place in the shade to start enjoying the fare.
My seafood choice was a bowl of Crawfish Etouffee, which was just delicious! Mel had catfish, and I believe Ralph had fried oysters, while John, Bill and Andrea all split a large box of boiled Blue Crabs.
Being a Crab Fest, of course there were crabs prepared many different ways, as well as shrimp, crawfish and oysters. If you like seafood, this was the place to be today (or tomorrow)!
Of course, part of the fun one has during eating, and listening to the live, 8-piece oldies band playing about 15 years away, is the ‘people watching’ all of the hundreds and hundreds of people walking by and enjoying the Fest.
After lunch, it was back to the vendor tents to check out the crafts, paintings and other things lining all the tent walls. After looking through all of the tents, I ended up buying a only crab key chain. John purchased a couple of framed prints for his home.
Then it was back to a table, to listen to music, drink some more beer, and water, and visit with each other and with friends who happened to walk by. Ralph and Andrea went up by the band and danced for a song or two, also.
Bill and Melanie went on one of the rides, which turned out to be a little more than Mel really wanted to experience, but they both survived.
Then back to another picnic table, when several of the group bought other seafood delicacies to enjoy, while doing a little more people watching. Andrea purchased a plate of fried crab claws, which she shared with two of us. Yum! They were good!
All in all, it was a most enjoyable afternoon, with good friends, good conversation, good weather and good food.
As we nibbled and people watched, and another freight train slowly moved past, the sun moved lower in the sky, and people continued to come, and go, and enjoy, the Bay of St. Louis CRAB FEST.