Blowin' in the Wind: Key West's Annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest

It's not every day that you see folks trying to make music with a conch shell, but down in Key West, Florida, that's exactly the spectacle dozens gathered to witness at the annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest this weekend. The competition ended on a high note with a tie in the men's division between Peter Drake and Brian Cardis, proving that "pucker power" is no joke when it comes to playing tunes on these fluted, pink-lined shells.

Brian Cardis, hailing from Macon, Georgia, and moonlighting as a pediatric cardiologist when he's not serenading with seashells, dazzled the crowd with Elton John's "Crocodile Rock." Swapping between large and miniature shells and donning sparkly spectacles reminiscent of Elton himself, Cardis aimed for a crowd-pleasing performance, leaning into the conch's musical limitations.

Meanwhile, Peter Drake, a mental health counselor with a penchant for sunset serenades on his sailboat back in North Stonington, Connecticut, opted for a more traditional vibe with "Amazing Grace." A veteran "conch honker," Drake, who first competed about five decades ago, shared some wisdom for newcomers: start with the basics and aim for clarity.

The event's judges had their work cut out for them, assessing the quality, duration, loudness, and creativity of the conch calls from men, women, children, and groups alike. Among other victors were the dynamic Florida Keys duo, Joseph Cosme and Eddie Strunk, who snagged the top spot in the group division with a lively improv duet. Angelica Hodek of Key West blew away the competition (quite literally) with a resounding blast, clinching the women's division title.

Hosted by Key West’s Old Island Restoration Foundation, the contest pays homage to the Florida Keys' rich maritime history and the longstanding tradition of using conch horns for signaling and communication. More than just a peculiar musical event, the conch shell stands as a potent symbol of the Keys, with native-born citizens proudly bearing the title of "conchs" and the archipelago itself affectionately dubbed the Conch Republic.