Alligator meat may not be everyone's idea of a tasty treat, but to Curtis Jones--who spent last weekend pounding up alligator tails and turning them into spicy sausage--it's the taste of home.
The New Orleans chef, and the alligator sausage he makes from his mother's recipe, were among the attractions at Gumbofest '99, a three-day celebration of all things Louisiana at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds last Friday through Sunday.
Organizers say the second annual event attracted between 6,000 and 8,000 people. Many of them spent the festival's final day dancing--or attempting to dance--the Cajun two-step to such artists as Roy Carrier, Beausoleil Avec Michael Doucet, Charmaine Neville and Boozoo Chavis & the Magic Sounds.
Jon Steenweg, of Washington, and his friend, Kathie Jones, were among those dancing. They'd visited Gumbofest every day, though Jones said with a laugh, "we do go home at night." While Steenweg has taken nearly a dozen trips to New Orleans' famed Jazz & Heritage Festival--the inspiration for Gumbofest--last weekend was a dress rehearsal of sorts for Jones: She plans to go to the next jazz fest.
Like the food, the festival's music was "sort of a gumbo," said Chuck Wentworth, production manager of Gumbofest '99. "We didn't want to have just one type of music because it sounds the same after three or four acts," he said. The bands played a mixture of jazz, Cajun, rock-and-roll and the blues over the weekend.
The weekend's punishing heat made the "rain room"--a tent filled with misting hoses--one of the most popular attractions. Elsewhere, patrons kept cool with beer and fat-free smoothies. More than 40 vendors sold everything from tie-dyed dresses to African masks, stained-glass to handmade bracelets. Some of the jewelry was free: Children ran around adorned with tinselly necklaces of red and green beads, the sparkly "throws" that the performers on stage intermittently hurled, in Mardi Gras fashion, at the crowds.
Louisianian Jones took a break to give away some beads to the people who moved through the food tent. He stirred up some jambalaya and shrimp creole next to the preserved heads of alligators he calls Phigeaux and Bougeaux and whose tails he served up a few years ago.
It was a diverse crowd, but one that included many parents and children, such as Mary Roman, 36, of Severna Park, who danced next to the stroller that held her 8-month-old son, Alex.
"He's having a wonderful time," she shouted over the music.
"We hope to make this the biggest New Orleans festival outside Louisiana," chef Jones said.
Chris Rostas, 30, who attended with her husband and their children, Jonathan, 6, and Lauren, 3, said, "If they come back, we're coming, too."
Still, as the festival entered its final hours Sunday, Rostas had yet to summon the nerve to try the alligator sausage.