The 6th Annual Cortez Stone Crab and Music Festival has come and gone, but not before around 8,000 people got to gorge on over 1,800 pounds of delicious fresh local stone crab claws. Of the four stone crab festivals statewide so far, this year, ours was the only one that didn’t run out of claws. The Naples festival ran out at 1:00 on the first day, which tells you everything you need to know about our local fishermen’s tenacity and dedication to keeping Cortez in the forefront as our state’s most prolific fishing village.
With a stellar music lineup and phenomenal local artists and vendors for guests to browse, thousands of crab, music and art fans enjoyed a laid-back weekend of fun despite some drizzly weather that moved in on Sunday.
As I was making my way through the crowds on Saturday I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride at how far this little hometown festival has come in just six short years. The first year was literally thrown together by a handful of us in just a few short weeks when owner John Banyas made the suggestion over dinner and drinks one evening, and like impulsive kids we just ran with it. That first year was really more like a big party than a festival. We used a fifth wheel flatbed trailer for a stage and only had about 8 or 10 artists showing their work, myself being one of them. If I remember correctly we only had maybe a thousand or so visitors over the course of the weekend that first year.
Apparently, the public liked the idea of a good party as much as we did judging from the climbing attendance it has enjoyed in the ensuing years. Having a platform to raise money for Fishing for Freedom, a hometown nonprofit consisting of local fishermen helping fishermen not only here in Cortez, but statewide has been the driving passion behind the Stone Crab Festival’s success.
I think we all need to send a huge thank you out to all involved in making the Stone Crab Festival what it is today, and hopefully for many years to come starting with John Banyas, owner of Cortez Bait and Seafood, Killer Bait and the Swordfish Grill and Tiki for making it all possible. Huge thanks to Kim McVey of Cortez Bait and Seafood for coordinating it all and to the management and staff of both the Swordfish Grill and the Cortez Kitchen for working so hard throughout the weekend. A HUGE thanks to our sponsors, Darwin Brewery, the Anna Maria Island Sun, Fidelity Bank and Pop Yachts who made it possible to provide festival goers the amenities like the big tent that kept us dry on Sunday. Thanks to Bob Slicker for being Emcee extraordinaire as always, for putting together such a fabulous music lineup and so much more. Thank you to Kat Cox for running logistics and putting out fires all weekend long. Big shout out and thanks to Andrew VanHook of NE Taylor Boatworks for letting us interrupt his operations for close to a week, and for doing an incredible job along with Stu Geraghty and Dave Shark as sound technicians for all of the entertainment. Hats off to the entire Fishing for Freedom crew headed up by Mark Coarsey, who played many roles throughout the festival.
The mullet and blue crab they served alongside the stone crab were all caught, cleaned and cooked by them for all to enjoy, which is a lot more work than most people realize. They also ran the beer tent and manned an information booth, educating people on the fishing industry, our heritage and the challenges fishing families face while collecting signatures to get the Net Ban brought in front of the upcoming Constitutional Revision Committee in Tallahassee. I would personally like to thank everyone who took the time to sign the petition in support of our local fishing families. Speaking of fishing families, a special thanks to Paul Moore, who caught, cooked, cracked and served a hefty portion of the 1,800 pounds of stone crab this year.
I know there are many I have inevitably left out of this list, which regrettably always seems to be the case, but you know who you are, and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts (and our bellies!) for yet another Fabulous Festival weekend! One thing is for certain, Cortez knows how to throw a party! See you all next year…..
photos from The Sarasota Post