Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Day After the Night Before

We got to East Martello Towers for Cayo Carnival at about six last night. It was raining lightly, but comfortably warm. We lucked out and found a place to park on the way in that would also be easy to exit from when it was time to go. Just as we arrived at the gate, it began raining heavily. Janet had an umbrella, but I thought it made more sense to stand under a nearby tree before deciding whether to go in or go back to the car. Attempting to stay dry by standing under the tree, I found, made no sense at all, so we went in. Or, rather, I followed Janet as she went in. She had already decided that going back to the car wasn't really an option. The rain came down even more heavily.

Red was already inside. Dotty was serving Margaritas at Outback's booth, and LB was out somewhere in the crowd. From outside we had heard live music but it was being shut down as we entered, to be replaced with recorded music, until the rain let up. It would be another hour before the rain slacked off and ended. We bought drinks and wandered around the field, looking to see what restaurants were serving food and what they were serving.

The linked article from the Citizen this morning explains more about what happened and why Cayo Carnival is such a significant event in Key West. It is, as the Citizen describes it, a locals party. Tourists are invited, and some do come to watch Key West's denizens in their own habitat. I have a bunch of pictures to process, and will post anything worthwhile in a bit.

For both of us, the music was the centerpiece of everything, but all around us the Cayo Crew volunteers and the staffs of the many restaurants who participated were cooking and serving their offered specials. There were four places serving gumbo. Café Sole had an excellent mushroom soup that I sampled. I craved an eclair on offer at Croissants de France's booth, but at six Cayo Bucks, it was too pricey. Six Cayo Bucks = Three Bud Light's. Healthy wheaten beverage vs. a thousand or so calories. No contest.

I did eventually get a cup of gumbo, but I didn't buy it. The Sauce Boss gave it to me. Bill Wharton, the Sauce Boss, prepares a vat of gumbo as he performs with his three piece combo. The music, a mix of blues, rock and country, is performed with superb energy. Wharton, dressed in a chef's had and jacket, plays his dobro with wild abandon and flair that demonstrate his long familiarity with that instrument. Stopping only to mix in an ingredient or two, or to give the gumbo pot a stir, he and the band march through a dozen or more songs, ending with a hymn and in a plea for donations to Wharton's Planet Gumbo project. Planet Gumbo is a charity Wharton formed to give help to homeless men, women, and children wherever he travels, and in his home town of Tallahassee. Then, it's time for the Call to Gumbo, an invitation to everyone to come up to the stage for a bowl of the freshly made dish. Excellent show!

The second band to come on was Caffeine Carl and the Buz. Carl Wagner on guitar, Joe Pepper on bass, Pete Peterson on keyboards, and a drummer whose name I didn't get played another hour of high energy blues and rock, joined at one point by a woman singer (I have to remember to get names!) who sang a steamy version of summertime. Carl Wagner gets better each time I hear him. I'm glad that he's doing well. He's a Conch who had a full time job with Key West Public Works, driving a street sweeper when he was starting out as a performer. I've noticed that the Buzz are appearing more and more around town, and in some of the bigger venues.

The final band to appear were the Gully Roosters who are from Green Turtle Cay in The Bahamas, and who are sort of the house band for Reef Relief. Reef Relief opened an environmental center at Green Turtle Cay a couple of years ago, bringing to that part of the Bahamas the kinds of programs for which they have become justifiably well-regarded in Florida. This is the second year that the Gully Roosters have appeared at Cayo Carnival. I'll bet it isn't the last.

The rain was a setback for Reef Relief. Carnival is one of the two major fund-raising events for them. The rain had to have caused a decline in ticket sales, many of which occur on the day of the event. It also cut the amount of Cayo Bucks bought and spent, and the number of raffle tickets sold. Too bad. RR board and staff were already concerned that net revenues for Carnival had been declining in the past few years.

We got home at just about 11 o'clock, tired, still a little damp, but happy.

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