The 13th Annual Denver Catfish Festival Wrap-up

24 Aug

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Greetings, Fellow Catfish Enthusiasts,

The 13th iteration of the Late Summer Classic is in the books, and what a great DCF it turned out to be.  We fried 25 pounds of Itta Bena, Mississippi’s finest farm-raised catfish and approximately seven pounds of hush puppies (that’s a LOT of hush puppies.)  We had a fried buffalo wing halftime show, cajun macaroni, baked beans (vegetarian, pork, and Louisiana-style,) pasta, cupcakes, fresh-picked raspberries, and myriad hors d’ oeuvres.

We had a surprisingly good teenage Phish cover trio, a first-time Haiku contest winner, a second-place Haiku ghost-writing scandal, and dear friends new and old from as far away as Houston and as close as next door.  We had a lot of first-time festival attendees as well as a great complement of Festival Elders on hand.

Starting at around 1:12 PM MDT, from my station in the Denver Catfish Festival kitchen, I get to see friends and spouses and coworkers and neighbors arrive via car or bicycle or on foot, all shaking hands or hugging and saying hello. Those from Louisiana comment on how much they like the catfish, which I’m always nervous about and relieved to hear, and those from parts further north who’ve never eaten catfish or even know what a hush puppy is talked in surprised voices about how much they like it.  Some of the guests only see each other at the Catfish Festival; others make plans to hang out long after the festival has ended.  There are people enjoying a smoky, delicious bourbon with their fried fillets, or those who have an ice cold beer and a hush puppy. Vodka tonics. Bourbon slush. Good tequila. Microbrews, macrobrews. Laughing, telling stories, drinking, eating, and more laughing.

From toddlers to teenagers, kids run through in groups; some are out on razor scooters, some on skateboards.  Sometimes they’re having water balloon fights, or they’re throwing a Frisbee, or trying to hula hoop, or getting their face wiped with a wet napkin by a mom or being told to get away from the fryer by a dad. They’re asking me where the catfish came from or why it’s called a hush puppy or when I’m going to fry another batch of corn dogs. They want to know where a bathroom is, or if they can have another Otter Pop, or if I have another soccer ball somewhere. Bathroom’s in the house, and have all the Otter Pops and Capri Suns you can handle. More of everything. This is the Denver Catfish Festival.

I always put together an eight-hour playlist for the day, an Official Soundtrack of The Denver Catfish Festival, and it’s a bit different every year.  Some songs are always there: Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell is a staple, because I love when somebody (and it’s always somebody different) walks up and says, “Is this Rhinestone Cowboy? I haven’t heard this since…”  I add a few songs called “Catfish” to the mix. Dash Rip Rock and Better than Ezra and a large dose of Radiators. Louisiana Leroux, Hank Williams, Zebra, Public Enemy, The Beatles, Naughty by Nature, The Hoodoo Gurus, Marvin Gaye, Silversun Pickups, The ‘Mats. It all just seems to work.

This year, the Festival happened to fall on what would have been my mom’s 76th birthday, so I made sure that I had a few of her trademark favorite songs on the list. Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Night and the Pips was one that a few people noticed; America by Neil Diamond got a huge response, and it choked me up. To think of how much my mom loved Neil (because she considered herself on a first-name basis with him) and to see all of these great folks singing one of his songs, that was a lot to take in. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my mom than with a big party, and although they didn’t know it, everybody was celebrating her with me.

Catfish Festival After Dark came and went as usual (maybe a bit more mellow than years past) with some good dancing, some bad dancing, and the requisite arguments over what song to play next. People went out to concerts or dinners or dates or to other events then came back to sit on the patio and hang out some more.

The Festival went very late into the night, as it always does, with just a few of us left in the garage (DCF Great Hall) surrounded by empty bottles and cans, the smell of cigarette butts, stale beer, and fryer oil in the air, hammering on an acoustic guitar and singing very bad renditions of Atomic Drawers songs and Guns & Roses songs and whatever else we could think of to play. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Vanessa and the girls gave their time and effort and enthusiasm; they are such gracious hosts and very patient partners.  Friends helped set up canopies and tables and hang lights.  They gave their valuable time and gear to make things better and easier.  I like to brag that I do it all, but that’s not really true.

So all of that and a thousand other memories and experiences are why I dig it so much.  If we’re being honest, it’s just a drunken fish fry that we have at our house, but I’ll be damned if I’ve found anything that comes close to a better way to spend a late summer Saturday.

Denver is a fun city with lots of options on a gloriously beautiful afternoon and evening. For those who were gracious enough to choose our little event and spend this past Saturday at our house, (oops, I mean The Denver Catfish Festival Chateau and Reflection Gardens,) instead of whatever else was going on that day, I really can’t express to you all how much we appreciate it.

In other words, thank you all for being in on the joke.  If you weren’t, it wouldn’t exist.

As the cleanup continues, I’m constantly reminded of how much I hate picking up cigarette butts (Winston smoker–I know who you are and will have my revenge.)

Let’s do it again next year.

Joe T., Chmn.

 

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