Conch Shell Blowing Contest: Key West's Quirkiest Musical Tradition Takes Center Stage
February 08, 2024 • KW Concierge
In the bustling heart of Key West, where the sun shines just a bit brighter and the ocean breeze carries tales of the old and new, there’s a sound that’s distinctly the island’s own. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill music fest; it’s the 61st annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest, hitting the garden of the Oldest House Museum (322 Duval St.) Saturday, March 9. Think you've got what it takes to be a conch virtuoso? The stage is set for noon.
This quirky contest doesn’t just blow hot air; it's a nod to the Florida Keys’ rich seafaring saga and the age-old tradition of using these pink-lined shells for more than just decoration. Back in the 1800s, when salvaging shipwrecks was the local hustle, sailors would use the “conch horn” to catch each other's attention with blasts that could pierce through the sea mist.
But the tale of the conch in these parts weaves deeper into the fabric of the Keys than just these instrumental toots. From the base of conch chowder to the pride of being dubbed a “conch” if you’re lucky enough to hail from here, this sturdy mollusk symbolizes the resilient spirit of the islanders and their beloved Conch Republic.
Presented by the stalwarts of preservation, the Old Island Restoration Foundation, this contest is more than just a competition; it’s a tribute to Key West’s vibrant history. The event draws a crowd—from tiny tots to seasoned pros—all eager to showcase their “pucker power” to a packed garden, turning the air into a symphony of sounds ranging from simple blasts to complex tunes that wow the crowd and judges alike. Trophies? Oh, they’ve got them for those who can dazzle with the quality, duration, loudness, and sheer novelty of their conch performances.
Last year’s men’s champ, a pediatric cardiologist from Georgia named Brian Cardis, is rumored to be defending his title. And for the little ones dreaming of becoming the next big “conch honker,” there’s a training station just for them. Let’s not forget the Candy Girls of Bahama Village, who’ll be there turning sugar into sweet magic.
Free to enter and a blast to watch, the gates swing open at 10:30 a.m. Whether you’re signing up online at oirf.org or throwing your hat in the ring last minute at the Oldest House Museum, make sure you’re ready by 11:45 a.m. For more on this can’t-miss island event, check out oirf.org.