Reflecting on Crawfest 2023

Ian Faul, Associate Arcade Editor

It’s 10 a.m., and I’m sitting in the courtyard behind the Commons preparing to write this article when a mildly muddy, yet spicy smell catches my attention. No, there is nothing like it — it’s the smell of boiling crawfish. Crawfest has begun.

Since 2007, Crawfest has been one of the highlights of springtime at Tulane University. The campus-wide crawfish boil and music festival was founded by a group of students who thought that the second semester should have a celebration as large as homecoming. Sixteen years on, the festival continues to be organized and produced entirely by students. Drawing nearly 8,000 attendees this year, Crawfest has become not only one of the largest student-run food and music festivals in the country, but also one of the largest student-run events. 

Some facts and figures: 2023’s Crawfest featured 16 local food and art vendors, eight musical acts and, of course, 12,000 pounds of crawfish.

This being Crawfest’s second year post-COVID-19, there have been equal efforts on the part of the executive board to restore old traditions and move toward the future. In particular, becoming more sustainable has become one of the festival organizers’ main goals. 

“One of our big new things that we all were trying to logistically figure out was composting, and how logistically, we were going to do that and make sure the compost was pure,” Festival Director Adia Handy said.

You may have also noticed the lack of plastic water bottles. 

Shivani Bondada

“This year, we decided to use Water Monster, which is this big water tanker thing, and to get Earth Cups which are compostable,” Handy said.

Beyond an improved model for sustainability, Handy’s vision for the future of the festival is to bring in acts representing a broader range of musical styles while maintaining the core of what Crawfest is: an homage to Louisiana music and a celebration of community. From my experience on Saturday, such a characterization rang true.

The day’s festivities began with a performance by Apricot Jam. The Tulane student band amassed a crowd made up of committed Crawfesters and some superfans who, at the end of the set, simultaneously donned custom-made shirts celebrating singer Ciara Rooke’s birthday.

By about 1 p.m., Crawfest was in full swing — the Berger Family Lawn was cut across with lines probably over a hundred people long waiting for their servings of crawfish. Having grown up in central Louisiana and witnessed the great intensity and efficiency with which my family members consume these crustaceans, watching Tulanians peel their first ones warmed my cajun heart.

Some other highlights from the afternoon were Hans Williams’ performance, again on the Newcomb Quad Stage, but this time with the sun setting behind it. The golden quality of the light harmonized perfectly with the nostalgic air of Williams’ music. In “Body on My Shoulders,” the last song he played before the encore brought on by the chanting crowd, Williams tells of his experience as a first responder to a floormate’s suicide in his first year at Tulane. The song has since become a “therapeutic anthem” for Tulane students — groups pressed up against the front of the stage, linked by arms stretched across each other’s shoulders, swayed and sang along.

While Williams’ set was perhaps the emotional climax of the day, Crawfest’s headliners Tank and the Bangas were unmatched in terms of sheer energy. At 5:30 p.m., Tank burst onto the stage alternately rapping, belting and squealing in her inimitable way and never letting the energy drop once. It was impossible to remain still.

Walking off the quad, I realized that Tank had turned me slightly deaf, but this quietness also brought on a new kind of peacefulness and contentment. I looked up and noticed two birds flying above — Mississippi Kites — whose annual arrival in Louisiana signals the transition from spring to summer.

I hope you all had a good Crawfest and that, unlike me, Saturday’s sun didn’t turn you crawfish-colored.

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