Crowned royalty of the New Orleans crawfish cuisine, no one does it better than the NOLA Crawfish King, Chris “Shaggy” Davis. Shaggy is hosting the first-ever NOLA Crawfish Festival, in conjunction with the NOLA Brewing Company and Live for Live Music, during the “daze between” Jazz Fest weekends (April 25-27) at the NOLA Brewery and Tap Room. (More information here) He’s got an all star cast of bands and artists, like Anders Osborne, Jon Cleary, George Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville, but aside from the juicy funk and one of a kind super jams, there’s the crawfish itself. More than five THOUSAND pounds of boiled crawfish will be fed to the attendees as part of the ticket price.  Out of towners can join locals as they gather round loaded tables of veggies and fixins, while the music never stops and the beer keeps on flowing.  

Our own Rex Thomson had the chance to talk to Shaggy about his long strange trip, from following the Grateful Dead to finding himself the ruler of the crawfish boil, and bringing the world together with the power of food.

Live For Live Music: Before we get into your history and I have to ask.  Is this right? You’re going to cook 5,000 pounds of food for the attendees of the NOLA Crawfish Festival over the course of the three days? That just sounds crazy…

Chris “Shaggy” Davis: Oh, we’re gonna cook more than that. The 5,000 pounds number was just a go to number to give folks an idea of what we were doing. I’m thinking roughly it’s end up being like..say…7,000 pounds, depending on how many people show up and how hungry they are. But yeah, I’m predicting somewhere between five to seven thousand pounds.

L4LM: Wow. Just the logistics seen mind boggling. How do you even do that?

CSD: NOLA Crawfish King, my business, we own multiple trailers which have giant pots built on them. We can do, roughly, eight or nine hundred pounds at a time. So anything is possible. But there’s a lot of prep leading up to that like the veggies, the meat, spices and we use a lot of citrus. So there’s always a lot of stuff that needs prepped in advance.

L4LM: You’re called the “Crawfish King” for good reason apparently. How many pounds do you think you cook in a year?

CSD: Around 90,000 pounds last year. We’re a catering company, and we do, on average, nine boils a weekend. Some boils are four hundred pounds and some could be thousands, it just depends on what kind of event it is. We do 10,000 pounds in Norfolk, Virginia at the Bayou Boogaloo Festival. We do 4,000 pounds at Bonnaroo. It’s all over the place. This weekend, for example, it’s the beginning of crawfish season down here. On Saturday we have one that’s five hundred pounds, on Sunday it’s another four or five hundred pounds of crawfish at another party.

L4LM: You mentioned Bonnaroo. You don’t try and feed that whole crowd do you?

CSD: No. (Laughs) We do a few private things there, for Superfly Productions. It started out that I would do a big boil backstage in artist hospitality on the last day of the fest, after the big bands like Phish or Bruce Springsteen. We also do an employee and staff party, which is the Monday after the fest. Everyone is still on site working, cleaning up the place, and we feed the staff which is a couple hundred people.

L4LM: How early in the morning do you have to start on the day of a big boil?

CSD: We start days in advance. Right now I’m preparing for a big boil in Florida, and that’s gonna be an eleven hour drive. Luckily, wherever Southwest flies, NOLA Crawfish King is able to ship our crawfish there. They’re alive when we get them, they’re alive when we cook them, and they’re delicious when they hit the tables. I’m in the process of cooking nine hundred pounds of milk-fed pig, getting all of that prepped, as well as talking to my bread folks here in New Orleans. They’re getting all of that ready for me to transport. It’s not just the boils…there’s a lot of prep. The boils are pretty easy for me now. We constantly have someone at the shop chopping vegetables and getting every thing ready.

Here’s a quick sample of the funky stew George Porter and his friends have cooked up together in the past.

L4LM: It sounds like you’re the “Go To” guy when it comes to doing boils for musicians and music events. How did your relationship with the music scene begin?

CSD: I’m a music lover, and that’s number one. I’m not from New Orleans…I don’t admit that a lot. (Laughs) I’ve been here since 1991. I broke down here in New Orleans following the Grateful Dead. I saw the Dead 200 plus times, not counting all the Jerry shows. I just fell in love with the place. New Orleans is just amazing. The culture here is like no other city in America, period. Period. The music scene here…it’s truly amazing. On any given night you can walk in almost any club and see music that no other city can even think about seeing.

With that being said, me being on the scene and feeding people, I’ve become known by a lot of the guys. And where there’s music there’s promoters, and after awhile the promoters started asking me to do things for them. There was something a few years ago, someone asked me if I could bring a boil to their event and I said “Can you give us some tickets to your festival?” And it became “NOLA Crawfish King…We Bring New Orleans To You!” or “Have Pot, Will Travel!” (Laughs) I like bringing New Orleans to the masses, and being out on the festival circuit really helps. Plus…musicians like to eat like everybody else! (Laughs)

Ivan Neville, one of the artists at the NOLA Crawfish Fest, he literally follows me around during Jazz Fest and crawfish season. He calls me up and says “Where you at?” I’ll tell him and he’ll say “I’m gonna swing by.” I’ll ask him where he’s playing and he’ll say, “The Howlin’ Wolf, come on out and bring some crawfish!” It’s funny.

L4LM: It kinda sounds like Ivan is on “Shaggy Tour.”

CSD: Sometimes I feel like he is. Over the years we’ve become good friends. I have so much respect for what Ivan does as a musician. I’ve learned more about him as the years have gone past. We have sobriety in common and in that he’s been a role model and an inspiration to me.  And we both love food. When we first started talking about the NOLA Crawfish Festival, I mean…look at the artists playing at the festival. Me being who I am and my business, “The NOLA Crawfish King” and also being a music buyer for all kinds of events down here in New Orleans, it’s an easy sell for the musicians. Food and music, it goes hand in hand down here.

Check out what George Porter Jr. had to say about Shaggy and his upcoming set at the NOLA Crawfish Festival HERE

L4LM: Do you see the NOLA Crawfish Festival as the next step up from the smaller parties you’ve been throwing all along, in a way?

CSD: Oh absolutely. Over the years, as my business grew…wait…let’s get this straight. I was a Jazz Fest guy. I NEVER missed a day at the fest. But as my business grew, I found myself working during the festival more and more. Then I was working all over the New Orleans and even farther and farther away from the city. Some of these people I was working for didn’t even know Jazz Fest was going on. And I tell you…it started to bother me a bit.

So being that I do some work in the music business, I started calling all my friends and saying “Hey, will you come play this party for me? I’ll serve crawfish, and you play the music.” It ended up going over really well. We’d been having parties here in town during Jazz Fest for sixteen years where we had to put up ALL the money up for it to feed a whole bunch of people we didn’t know. We had to get serious and put a ticket price on it and in the end it all pans out. No one is making a bunch of money…we’re just showin’ the people how we do it in New Orleans.

But we were throwing like three parties all over town during Jazz Fest, but I did some research and saw that no one had thrown a “Crawfish” music festival. There was a fest that happened, but it didn’t happen in Orleans parish. So I said “You know what? I’m gonna go for it!” Bought the name, all the different naming rights, and then I went to my friends at the NOLA Brewery. They’ve always greeted me with open arms for anything I want to do there. I was probably one of the first people that brought live music to the place and they thought it was a great idea! I mean, c’mon…the NOLA Crawfish King, the NOLA Brewery and Live For Live Music…crawfish, music, and beer? C’mon now…

Check out this video showing the magic that Shaggy makes during one of his events:

L4LM: Given the diverse ancestry of the city, it seems like the boil table is a fine metaphor for what’s best about the city, everyone coming together to share food and fun. Do you ever get the feeling that how the food tastes is less important than what your bringing people from all walks of life together at the table does for society?

CSD: The story of when I first moved to New Orleans is a perfect example of this. I got my first apartment uptown in the 13th Ward, twenty-five years ago. I was the only white guy for a big radius. But all my hippie friends would stop through on their way from one tour to the next and I started having these boils in my backyard. And this is how my business started.

We would have these parties. There would be four or five of us sitting around, boiling a big ‘ole pot of crawfish, and more and more people started showing up and the pots got bigger and bigger. It became this really cool thing. And then my neighbors from all sides started coming over. Then the whole street. And it became this really cool thing. We did it for seventeen consecutive weekends. Grateful Dead loving hippies and straight up New Orleans natives. Two cultures colliding, brought together by crawfish. I have friendships to this day I never would have thought I’d have without crawfish. It’s just weird and it’s amazing. You bring people together.

You can do it however you want. You can have someone bring it to you on a plate or in a basket or you can do it like we do it down here and dump it on the table and stand around and eat and talk to each other. No ones in a hurry here in New Orleans, or even all of Louisiana really. So okay, it might take you a while to get your fill of crawfish, shrimp, crab or whatever, but you’re there with your friends, and that’s what’s important.

Here’s a final little taste of what these artists have cooked up together in the past.

L4LM: I know the fest is going to be plenty packed with locals who know their way around a crawfish table, but can you give a few pointers to any of the lucky visitors who come to jam at the festival?

CSD: They’re just gonna need to elbow their way up to the table. These folks who come in for Jazz Fest are serious, they’re gonna dive right in. The NOLA Crawfish Festival is set up perfect for everyone, locals and out of towners. It’s the three days between Jazz Fest weekends, the 25th, 26th & 27th of April, from 3 to 10pm each day. That gives the locals time to get there after work, if they’re even trying to work during Jazz Fest. It also gives visitors somewhere to go that is a truly authentic New Orleans experience. It’s gonna be a really special festival. We’re going out of our way to make sure this is a great time for the locals, for the visitors and even the newbies at eating crawfish. We just want to give everyone a really unique experience.

New Orleans probably has more festivals than any other city in America per year. I’m pretty positive of that. But this one is going to be unique. This isn’t gonna be one of those “Free to get in to get in, and ten dollars per item” seafood fests down at the pier. Sure, we’re charging a ticket price, but your getting top notch local talent and world class super jams, the best crawfish, and NOLA Brewery is making a special brew, just for the festival. It’s gonna be epic, which I try not to say a lot.

L4LM: All that sounds great, but how about exactly how someone who’s literally never eaten a crawfish does it. Any tips for them?

CSD: Twist it open, pinch the tail, suck the head. Nice and easy.

L4LM: It sounds like the Crawfish Festival ends pretty early. Is that so people can go home and sleep off the huge meal and all day dancing they’re gonna do?

CSD: Well…hopefully all the people leave full. But really, it’s because late night there’s music happening all over the city. Hell, some bands don’t start ’til two o’clock in the morning. Plenty of time to spend the day with us, and then keep the party going all night long.

L4LM: You came out of Chicago originally. If you hadn’t broken down where and when you did, do you think you’d be back there making giant pizzas for the local musicians right now?

CSD: I don’t know man. Before I broke down here, I had been down here a few times. I did the Mardi Gras thing with my friends…I slept in my car the entire time. I was young, but I partied my ass off, man. I loved it. So when I broke down here, maybe it was fate. I started doing odd jobs, trying to get the money together to fix my van. At the same time I was drinking my coffee one morning and I looked in the paper and I saw an ad for a one bedroom shotgun house for 225 dollars a month. I thought to myself…”If I can’t afford 225 dollars a month then something is pretty wrong with me.” I put down what little money I had and New Orleans been my home since. And I’ll never leave! NEVER! (Laughs)

L4LM: I like that spirit! With all this work going on, will you get to enjoy any of the music yourself.

CSD: Well, like a lot of these fests I work across the country, I’m not gonna be doing all the work by myself. I’m definitely hands on, making sure the artists and the people are happy but I have a great staff. And the great thing about how the NOLA Brewery is going to be set up for the NOLA Crawfish Festival is that we’re gonna be right there in the middle of the people. We’ll all be able to see and hear everything. And all the people are gonna be able to watch my cooks and I do what we do.

L4LM: Sounds like a fun way to enjoy some really cool tunes, and this is officially the first interview to ever make me hungry. Thanks for taking the time out of your packed schedule to chat with us, and for all you do, filling the bellies of the music scene!

CSD: Thank you! Hope to see you all around the tables at the NOLA Crawfish Festival!

Attendees of the NOLA Crawfish Festival will see over a dozen sets of music featuring some of the finest musicians the city of New Orleans has to offer, as well as a continually restocked crawfish feast from Shaggy, The Crawfish King. 

If all this talk about music and food has whetted your appetite for a heaping helping of funk and crawfish, tickets for the NOLA Crawfish Festival are available HERE

Thanks to the FunkIt Blog and Jeremy Sewell Productions for the videos.