Crawdad Town USA, as Isleton is commonly referred to today, somehow always found the need for a gathering.
||As in days of old, there was an attraction to this town for a bit of excitement or adventure. Be it asparagus (a local crop) or a May festival to ring in the growing season for the fertile delta soil, gatherings or festivals were always a part of Isleton. Today, the streets seem more crowded come evening time, which is a bit unusual compared to other delta towns, which roll up the streets early.
The Big Bend in the river (Isleton) is a natural haven for fishermen and boating enthusiasts. Highway 160 is a scenic highway that runs right in the middle of town, so there is no way to avoid Isleton when driving scenic Hwy. 160.
It is never unusual to see a lot of strangers rolling into this beautiful little Delta town on the river. What is unusual, however, is that the people of Isleton don't seem to recognize what a stranger is. Everyone gets a warm hello and/or directions to whatever it is that they are looking for in the area.
There is a common theme beyond the friendliness, however. There are a large quantity of crawdad (crawfish if you're a Southerner) signs, posters, banners and advertisements. The bait shop has a huge clear water glass tank with pedigree crawdads, pinchers aglow and crawling as though they have a destination or a mission to fulfill.
The Chamber of Commerce (two doors down), is a major dedication to the crawdad, with posters, hats, shirts and general information on crawdads. On and on it goes all the way down Main Street into the old district and beyond!
There is an indication of a June (Father's Day weekend) event that speaks to … you guessed it…. Crawdad Festival.
The Isleton Crawdad Festival came about in a strange, perhaps divine, way. In 1986, the Chamber of Commerce was to hold a small affair at the Catholic Church picnic area. There was a problem in attracting someone who could do a food booth for the event. The Chamber approached the owners of the Del Rio Hotel for a solution to the problem of the food booth. Of course the folks at the Del Rio Hotel do cook, but did not do any "outdoor type cooking", as part of the hotel business. Just when things seemed bleak and the event was just around the corner (a week or so), something strange happened! It was in the hotel lounge that a stranger (tourist/visitor) was sipping on a refreshment when the hotel cook brought out a big platter of boiled crawdads (crawfish) for happy hour snacks. It seemed that the stranger himself was connected to the delicacies of Louisiana cooking, and he was so excited about that platter of cooked crawdads, he began to talk about the crawfish festivals and music back home in Louisiana!
Now the town of Isleton is (in a funny small town sort of way) like E. F. Hutton… When someone speaks or spins a story, they are all ears! So it was; the stranger laid it all out in his story about crawfish and festivals and music and the folks were all ears to what he had to say. A call was made, and within minutes, the Chamber Members started pouring in, and so the story went again! There was enough told that caused the Chamber to place a phone call to the people in Louisiana that the stranger spoke of, and not long after, you could see the thought oozing out of people's every expression! "Lord knows we have crawdads galore in the rivers and sloughs here in the Delta!" (someone blurted). Well, it didn't take long for Crawdad Fever to hit the residents and businesses of Isleton … In fact, it was downright contagious!
Sister, can you lend a hand?
The first year that Isleton held a Crawdad Festival, it was kind of awkward! It's one thing to cook a platter of the tasty little devils, but when it comes down to feeding a crowd, that's an entirely different matter altogether! Things got rather frantic in short order and the folks were looking for both more crawdads and a faster, more efficient way to cook them.
It was back to the phone, this time to Baton Rouge for advice on high production cooking. It was beyond the folks at Baton Rouge, so they gave Isleton the name and number to Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Breaux Bridge is noted for the crawfish festival of crawfish festivals, no doubt about it! After a bit of conversation and figuring out what Isleton's problems were, an invitation was extended to a handful of people to attend the Breaux Bridge festival for a "show and tell".
Nine Isletonians made the trek to Louisiana. Once there, they received the same warm welcome that comes natural to the Delta citizens of Isleton. It was a fellow by the name of René Prejean that was in charge of the crawdad cooking for the Breaux Bridge crowd. The Isletonians got a first hand look at the cooking, the music, and the whole festival, and they were thrilled by every aspect!
It wound up that René hitched up his crawdad boiling rig and drove it out to California for the June Isleton festival. Oddly enough, that huge boiling contraption never left California. Isleton bought the rig and went on to fabricate yet another just like it with the ingenuity and talent of local folks. We continue to be sister cities with Breaux Bridge and deeply appreciate the jump-start to what is a great festival for Northern California.