Five months worth of available dancing, drinking and eating in downtown Syracuse’s Clinton Square kicked off yesterday afternoon.
The spring gray broke for a stretch, my dear wife Karen and I took off our jackets, the good friends were chatty, and my very favorite Syracuse band was on the stage.
I enjoyed the Crawfish Festival.
This one-day party that brings a taste of Louisiana to upstate New York is for a cause far greater than raising the spirits of Central New York residents by annually opening the figurative door to the warm weather festival season that brings music and food booths to the square in the middle of downtown Syracuse.
It’s a fundraiser that raises cash for a very important project.
Operation Southern Comfort was started in 2006 by Norm Andrzejewski of Liverpool. The graduate of New Orleans university Tulane began bringing Central New Yorkers there to help in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Several years ago, that effort begat Operation Northern Comfort, with similar goals: Volunteers find projects in this area where their collective efforts can help change lives. Last fall, the organizations merged.
I shook Norm’s hand and reintroduced myself as a fellow who interviewed him for a newspaper story shortly after Katrina. His eyes shined and he thanked me for the piece in the Auburn Citizen. I politely told him that it had been for the Syracuse daily, and he still smiled and gave me a hearty hello. I was glad that his effort had received much media attention in this region over the years.
Throughout the day, volunteers strolled the square, selling 50-50 raffle tickets to raise money for the organization.
A booth was set up in which a lucky putter could win huge flat screen TVs in turn for their donations. That also promoted an upcoming Salt Potato Open golf fund-raiser.
Probably the most popular donation items were bright red crawfish hats for five bucks and Mardi Gras style beads for a buck.
I gladly purchased a hat for our strollered friend Evan Eggert. We’d stopped to say hello to the little guy and his mom, Julie, our friend who used to work with us at the big daily.
Evan put the hat on right up to the time when I wanted to take his picture, then he’d pull it off. Repeatedly.
Happy little game for me and the little guy, who will be 3 in a month.
I love his wily smile.
Karen wore her beads without hesitation.
Lines were long to buy plates of the title guy of the event, the blazing red crawfish.
Piled high and served with potatoes and corn on the cob, the “swamp bug” gave off an aroma that reminded me of the manner in which they cooked the king of culinary choice back in my Maryland, oh, Maryland days, the crab.
Yes, Clinton Square was alive with the scent of Old Bay seasoning.
I do not like crabs. I do not like Old Bay seasoning. (In Maryland, my friends used to eat potato chips flavored with Old Bay. I stuck with barbecue or sour cream and onion or good, old regular.)
So I passed on the crawfish. So did Karen. We had just eaten breakfast with friends up in Central Square, anyway.
As soon as Los Blancos took the stage to prep for the second set of the afternoon, I jumped the step up and leaned in to say hello to my longtime friends, musicians who have been laying down swinging roots Americana music appropriate for the Crawfish Festival, Syracuse and beyond for a couple of decades now.
Dudes can play.
I’ve been wishing more national fame upon them for a long time now. When they tour, they proudly wear the Syracuse label. When national bands with their friends play Syracuse, they call Los Blancos up to share the stage.
Here’s the click to their audio/video page so you can get in on the action. They’ve got plenty of albums out. They’re on YouTube. Of course they were part of my Music Notes Performance series when I worked for the big daily.
I bobbed near the stage for a couple of songs before I got back into the middle of the crowd with Karen, my good friend Dave Kaspar and his girlfriend Sue Taylor. I would estimate that Dave and I have witnessed 10,000 Los Blancos songs together live.
Norm and the rest of the fest organizers knew how to do things right.
The food vendors also were serving shrimp in case you wanted something in a shell, but were reluctant to go for the bright red little daddy of the day.
The beer tent had domestic for fair prices. Karen and I grabbed a Bud Light, which were five bucks each. They also were pouring craft beers from the tap for a buck or two more, if your tastes were searching something more refined.
Our friend Bob Bird and his wife Lynne opted for the craft, and we helped carry a couple back to them and their two friends to chat.
We watched as characters in costumes fit for New Orleans paraded around the grounds.
Plenty of fest-goers got the hint and took advantage for photo opportunities.
I was not close enough to hear whether it was the policeman or the Crawfish who asked for the picture to be taken above.
Actually, I am pretty sure it was an event organizer who asked the friendly Syracuse officers to pause for a shot for the fest files.
It was a nice moment.
Karen and I also took the time to stroll through the dozen or so craft tents artists and artisans had set up in three rows on the lawn portion of Clinton Square.
We didn’t buy, but it was fun to browse.
Of course, everybody needs a break.
Even the Crawfish and busy organizer Norm. She loses her head, but quietly. He accepts the moment.
Is it outdoor festival season yet where you live? Do you like going to festivals? What’s your favorite fest and why?