Texas Crab Festival Celebrates 30 Years of Music, Art, and Crabs

By Brenda Cannon Henley
Combine the good feelings that come with an old fashioned family reunion, on the beautiful Southeast Texas Gulf Coast, the celebration of Mother’s Day Weekend, great music, exciting art and crafts, and delicious food, and you have a reason to be extremely pleased about the fact that The Texas Crab Festival is alive and well. In fact, it is more than just well. It is thriving and on tap to celebrate 30 exciting and fun-filled years this May.

Anne Willis, the matriarch of the festival, laughs when asked if the Festival has come a long way since 1986 when it was initiated, and not on Mother’s Day weekend for the first few years. “No, we did not start out having it on Mother’s Day weekend, but we changed it to that after a while.”

Janet Leigh Davis and Anne Willis at one of the early Texas Crab Festivals. The Festival has come a long way since the early days.

Janet Leigh Davis and Anne Willis at one of the early Texas Crab Festivals. The Festival has come a long way since the early days.

Anne’s soft laughter continues as she talks about those first years. “I will always think of it as a real learning experience for all of us. We knew we had a good thing here on the Bolivar Peninsula, and we really wanted to share it with others, but we did not know exactly how to do it. I guess you could say it was trial and error. We started out with a few faithful vendors and some good musicians, and it simply took off and grew and grew.” Anne said that George Vratis, a local business owner, was one of the hands-on founders, along with many other good people along the way. “Yep, George did everything and anything. He did whatever was needed most at the moment and people loved it.”

Anne said that some of the local business people and members of the Crystal Beach Tourist Association were sitting around talking and it was decided that the Peninsula folks should band together to have an event calling attention to the beautiful beach area, the good food, local entertainment, artists, and the good life enjoyed by the residents. “We were thinking that we all went to Port Arthur for the big shrimp festival and Mardi Gras each year, and Beaumont had events, but the Bolivar Peninsula really had not planned anything like that. What did we have that no one else in Texas had or at least, promoted exclusively?” She said she honestly did not know who came up with the idea of crabs, but that because so many of the maritime folks crabbed and shrimped for a living, along with fishing, they decided to feature crabs. And so, the Texas Crab Festival was born in 1986.

Anne also said the art and craft and food vendors that came faithfully year after year should also get much of the credit for the very successful Festival. “The Fredenburg family started out with the best funnel cakes and corn dogs you’ll ever taste.” “The Fredenburg family started out with the best funnel cakes and corn dogs you’ll ever taste.”

“The Fredenburg family started out with the best funnel cakes and corn dogs you’ll ever taste.”

“The Fredenburg family started out with the best funnel cakes and corn dogs you’ll ever taste.”

Anne added that you really could not expect to plan and host a good festival of any kind without great food and entertainment to keep the people coming year after year. “Oh, my goodness, and the volunteers that make it all happen. We would not have a Crab Festival without the countless hours of work put into the event each year. It takes all hands on deck,” she said sincerely.

This reporter spoke with Moody Fredenburg, son of the original founder of M & M Concessions, and asked about the early days of the Texas Crab Festival. “My dad and mom had a good concessions business and they loved coming to the Texas Crab Fest. In fact, we always planned to come a few days early or stay a few days later to fish and just enjoy the beaches,” said Fredenburg. “I don’t know exactly when Dad and Mom started coming, but I know it was early. It may have been the first one, and they came down from Liberty for a dozen years or so. My wife, Marsha, and I took it up when they slowed down and we operated the concessions for seven or eight years.” The current Fredenburgs loved the Peninsula so much that after Moody retired from Amoco Chemicals, they retired to the beach where they currently live.

Fredenburg says there are really no words to describe the Festival. “You really just have to experience it,” he says with some contemplation. “It is like a big family reunion with folks seeing people they have known for years, but have not had the chance to visit with in a while. The food is always good and man, oh, man, the entertainment. Some of the best musicians in Texas have graced that stage.” Fredenburg added that his mom always looked forward to Joe Faggard, a local legend, going about the grounds on Mother’s Day morning giving out pretty carnations to all of the women. Many mentioned Mr. Faggard and his love of the Texas Crab Festival. It was one of his duties to raise the flag at the opening ceremony and he did that until the year of his death.

“After we got our feet on the ground, we learned to dream big,” said Anne. “We expanded events and tried new ones. If they worked well, we kept them, and if they did not, we replaced them. We did not have a budget in the beginning and we had to make things work. I remember one year I was up the night before the Festival opened gluing seashells to trophies to present to winners. We gave sand dollars for medals and people loved them. We started by charging one fee for each vehicle that entered, but we had to do away with that and start charging each individual to cover costs. We needed electricity and water and that costs money.”

Many entertainers that have graced the stage at the Texas Crab Festival, some going on to national prominence.

Many entertainers that have graced the stage at the Texas Crab Festival, some going on to national prominence.

Anne said that she is very proud of the many entertainers that have graced the stage at the Texas Crab Festival. “We have had some of the great names and certainly some favorites of the crowds. “I well remember Donnie D and the Rocket 88s, Wayne Toups, and Ezra Charles, among so many.” Anne said they also learned a hard lesson. “We had featured Ezra so many times, and so one year, we thought we would have someone new, so we did not invite him. We got there on Saturday night and there were about 35 people holding big signs printed with ‘Where’s Ezra?’ on them. We learned our lesson.”

Clay Walker, a prominent country music star, made his first live performance on the Crab Fest stage and he went on to be a big star. The opportunity for new artists to perform and get their feet wet has been a big plus of the Fest and the Entertainment Committee keeps that in mind. “We like to showcase local talent when we can,” said Anne. “It gives them a break and it teaches them how to perform in front of a large, live audience.”

The Texas Crab Fest is held in Gregory Park where they have added a very nice covered pavilion, which makes a good dance floor, and adequate parking is provided. The beach offers its own draw and the event is one that is cherished by many. The many contests continue to draw participants and the entertainment is always good.

Kerry Mears, winner of the first Crab Legs Contest at the 1986 Texas Crab Festival

Kerry Mears, winner of the first Crab Legs Contest at the 1986 Texas Crab Festival

The Crab Leg Contest is a favorite of many. There is a Texas 2-Step Dance Contest, the National Weiner Dog Races, a 5K Run and 1K Walk, the washers tournament, and the Charity Crab Gumbo Cook-off, among others. And, then there is the food — What’s not to like about choice treats featuring crab, shrimp, and fish, along with many other delicacies that the vendors provide? The Texas Crab Festival was named one of the nation’s 10-Best Food Festivals to Dive Into and was featured in a recent telecast with Anthony Anderson. “They prepared crab all kinds of ways. There was crab guacamole, and garlic, butter, and crab meatballs wrapped in bacon, and a crab pie, and that’s not even mentioning the gumbo,” wrote Anderson.

“We’ve lost many of our regulars over the years,” said Anne with a hint of nostalgia. “Joe Faggard has died, Monte Potter with illness, and Sam Brown was killed in a fire, and I miss them. It seems that we always have good people stepping up to the plate and volunteering and I am so thankful for that. The Texas Crab Festival is the first thing some people come to Bolivar for, but it sure isn’t the last. They just keep coming back year after year and we are grateful for that.” Anne had to complete the interview to go check out one of her new crab decorated hats for the big 30th Annual Texas Crab Festival.

Brenda Cannon Henley speaking with Jim “King of the Road” at the xxxx Texas Crab Festival.

Brenda Cannon Henley speaking with Jim “King of the Road” at the xxxx Texas Crab Festival.

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at
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