With fingers, feet, and stomachs ready, hundreds of people flocked to Spanish Landing this past weekend for this year’s Gator by The Bay, a fantastic annual gathering with an abundance of zydeco, blues, crawfish, and other wonderful Cajun treats right here in San Diego. Over the course of three whole days, from May 6-8, attendees were able to enjoy over 85 performances, Cajun cooking demos, craft vendors, and 8000 pounds of delicious crawfish.
Upon entering the festival, guests were surrounded by the culture of Louisiana as live swing, jazz, and blues music infiltrates the air. Plastic alligators line the stage tents and a huge gator constructed from cloth and wood were featured throughout the park. Dozens of vendors were lined up selling a multitude of crafts and goods from colorful dresses and wraps to hand-crafted wooden blocks and gorgeous paintings.
The five stages hosted many talented performers including Horace Trahan & the Ossun Express, Grammy-nominated Maria Muldaur, and blues legends Elvin Bishop and Lazy Lester Johnson, however, the real star of the festival was definitely the Cajun cuisine featured throughout the entire festival grounds.
While the abundance of crawfish was hard to not notice, with the multiple tables and grass areas crowded with people twisting and cracking their way through piles of the yummy spicy boiled treats, the culinary goodness did not end there. Several booths offered a variety of Louisiana goodies ranging from hush puppies to catfish to gator. That’s right, there were even deep-fried pieces of gator.
My personal favorite food of the festival was the beignets. These delicious French treats, which happen to be the official state doughnut of Louisiana, are a deep-fried pastry usually covered with powdered sugar and sometimes topped or filled with fruit. On Sunday, students from the Mesa College Culinary Arts program, Quentin Yates and Cindy Dannon, showed off their beignet-making skills at the Taste of Louisiana cooking demo stage, even showing the audience that they can use a wine bottle to roll out the dough.
The demos definitely gave a helping hand to those who were not as familiar with Louisiana life and cuisine, or even those who just wanted to learn more. There were tents dedicated to giving dance lessons in Zydeco, a Creole music and dance with roots in African American blues and jazz, as well as the jitterbug, swing, and 2-step. Even if guests didn’t make it to the classes, the welcoming environment on the dance floor at the live music stages allowed anyone to join in on the fun.
The downside, however, is that entrance into the festival can be a bit steep, ranging from $25-$30 for each adult depending on the day (kids 17 & under are free). So struggling college students may not be able to indulge, but the event is very family-friendly. The food and craft vendors are a bit expensive, but not out of the ordinary from regular fairs and the tickets to get in really only cover the live music concerts, demos, dance classes and atmosphere.
That aside, overall Gator by The Bay was a wonderful, fulfilling (and filling) experience that San Diegans should try out next year, even if just for the crawfish. Yes, they were that good.
Check out more pictures from Gator by The Bay below: