31 January 2017
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Blowing a conch shell might not rank high as a symphonic accomplishment, but aficionados are expected to “trumpet” their fondness for the quirky form of musical expression during an annual test of skill in Key West. Several dozen people from around the United States are expected to compete Saturday, March 4, in the 55th annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest.
Held at noon in the garden of the Oldest House Museum, 322 Duval St., the offbeat contest celebrates Key West’s historic connection to the hardy sea mollusk. Blowing into the conchs’ fluted pink-lined shells is a Key West tradition, with “conch horns” employed as signaling devices by early Native Americans, 19th-century seafarers and resident shipwreck salvagers, among others.
Today the conch shell remains an enduring symbol of the Florida Keys and Key West, whose native-born citizens call themselves “conchs.” Conch chowder and fritters are popular local dishes, and in 1982 the island chain staged a symbolic secession from the U.S. and proclaimed itself the independent Conch Republic.
During the often hilarious Conch Shell Blowing Contest, contestants pucker up and raise the shell to their lips, attempting to make music (or at least respectable sounds) in front of a standing-room-only audience. While most can only manage tuneless hoots or feeble squawks, a few do surprise spectators by blowing lengthy blasts or even melodies.
Entrants typically include men, women, young children and groups. All are judged on the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they produce.
Nicknamed the “Conch Honk,” the challenge is presented each spring by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of Key West.
The 2017 contest is free to enter and watch. Contestants can register at the Oldest House Museum from 10:30 a.m. to noon March 4. Those without “instruments” can purchase conch shells on-site.
Event information: oirf.org or 305-294-9501
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY 
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