Two of the biggest annual events at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula east of Galveston are the Texas Crab Festival and the Stingaree Music Festival. In its 24th year, the Crab Festival traditionally has occurred on Mother's Day weekend and celebrates everything culinary and cultural about those tasty Gulf Coast critters known as blue crabs. The Stingaree Music Festival, in its third year, usually has taken place in April and is the brainchild of country music singer-songwriter and Woodlands native Hayes Carll
But when Hurricane Ike all but wiped out the Bolivar Peninsula last September, the future of both festivals, not to mention the peninsula itself, was in serious jeopardy.
In stepped Carll, who spent his formative years as a musician in Crystal Beach playing at the blue-collar bars that line Highway 87, the main road that runs the length of the peninsula. Working alongside the famously eccentric, independent and determined residents of Bolivar, Carll moved his Music Festival to the end of May and combined it with the Crab Festival to create a weekend of music and crabs. The rallying cry was "Bolivar's Back!" All profits from last weekend's festival went to the Bolivar Chamber of Commerce Economic Recovery Fund.
The focus of the Crab Festival was, obviously, the food. Every conceivable preparation of crab was available -- crab cakes, crab nachos, soft-shell crab poor boys, gumbo with crab, boiled crab, and the ever-popular barbecue crabs. Unlike traditional barbecue crabs, which are actually heavily seasoned and fried, one vendor was boiling the crabs, slathering on barbecue sauce and grilling/smoking them in a barbecue pit.
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Once you had your fill of crabs, many other cuisines were available. Cajun cuisine reigned supreme, with fried shrimp, gumbo and alligator-on-a-stick. Other traditional festival fare was also available. One of the most popular vendors was Mr. T's Pork-A-Bobs -- huge chunks of skewered pork chops drenched in barbecue sauce and grilled over an open flame.
After the festival-goers were sufficiently toasted (both from libation and sunburn), at sundown, the bands took the stage. In addition to Hayes Carll, other music luminaries including Sisters Morales, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jesse Dayton and The Magpies performed. In the spirit of bringing Bolivar back, they all waived their usual fees and worked for expenses only.
Undoubtedly, many in the crowd of several hundred were there just to see Hayes Carll, who recently garnered several nominations in the 2009 Houston Press Music Awards, including Best Local CD/LP and Best Songwriter. Throughout his set, Carll interspersed songs with stories of his early days living and playing in Crystal Beach at places like Bob's Sports Bar. Unfortunately, Bob's is no longer around thanks to Hurricane Ike, but it's expected to make a triumphant return.