10 February 2015
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — While other locales might be famous for jazz or blues, Key West is home to its own musical art form: conch shell blowing. Aspiring “musicians” can test their skill on the shell beginning at noon Saturday, March 7, during the 53rd annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest in the garden of the Oldest House Museum, 322 Duval St.
Key West’s connection with the hardy sea mollusk goes far beyond instrumental uses of its fluted pink-lined shell. Native-born residents refer to themselves as conchs, conch chowder and conch fritters are traditional island dishes, and the two-story gingerbread-bedecked wooden houses in the historic Old Town district are called conch houses.
In 1982 the Florida Keys and Key West proclaimed themselves the Conch Republic, and the shell remains an enduring symbol of the island chain.
No demonstration of the conch connection, however, is more unusual (or more hilarious) than the Conch Shell Blowing Contest. As in past years, it is presented by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of Key West.
Each year the quirky “Conch Honk” attracts several dozen men, women and children who demonstrate their lung and pucker power in front of standing-room-only audiences.
Trophies are awarded in four categories, with judging based on the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds produced. Past entrants’ melodic attempts have ranged from feeble bleats and squawks to excerpts from tunes as complex as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
The 2015 contest is free to enter and watch. Contestants can register at the Oldest House Museum from 10:30 a.m. to noon March 7. Those lacking “instruments” can purchase conch shells on site.
Event information: www.oirf.org or 305-294-9501
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