NEW ORLEANS — A neighborhood crawfish boil celebrating the beginning of the mudbug season Saturday afternoon turned into an event aimed at promoting the growing technology scene in New Orleans.
In a backyard in a quiet corner of Mid-City near the cemeteries at the end of Canal Street, software designers partnered with neighbors, nearby businesses and the NFL film crew to host a party launching a website that allows people to find out when and where the next crawfish boil will be held.
After participating in the first Super Bowl “hackathon,” a software development event held over a 48-hour period in mid-January, the creators of the “crawfishfinder.com” app were contacted by representatives from the NFL film crew, Gerard Ramos, one member of the team who created the software, said.
Ramos said they didn’t win any awards at the event, but their idea generated enough interest and media coverage to evolve into a launch party, a segment featured on air as part of the NFL coverage as well as a fundraiser for the Team Gleason foundation.
The NFL crew wanted to showcase the technology scene in New Orleans as well as some of the authentic New Orleans culture found outside of areas in the city already inundated with Super Bowl mania and accompanying media coverage, Ramos said.
The website is now online and free to access, Ramos said, allowing crawfish cravers to locate the closest boils.
Any businesses or organizations wanting to let others know the time, place and price of boils can post their information on the site, he said. The program will become a downloadable app in the future, he said.
Travis Laurendie, CEO of entertainment technology company Volnado and organizer of the hackathon, said he wanted to showcase the cutting-edge technology scene that exists in New Orleans to the Super Bowl audience.
“We want to show the world what New Orleans has and that we as a technology community can solve problems on a global scale. It’s a place for creative development and new creative companies — not just a place to eat, drink, and listen to music.”
Ramos said the TV-ready launch was pulled together in under a week — quickly, by some accounts.
But for Michael “Indian Red” Hirsch, one of the event’s hosts, less than a week was plenty of time to expand the intimate get-together into a large scale, open-to-the-public party, requiring security, wristbands, free-flowing beer and 1,000 pounds of salty, juicy, crustaceans spread across tables in steaming mountains of bright red tails, claws and antennae.
Hirsch identified himself as the associate mayor of the block, and when asked if the time-crunch was a challenge, said “Honey, we are professional party planners. I’ve been doing this since I was 13.”
Ramos said that at first he approached sponsors to help cover the basic costs and make the boil free, but that they decided that they would instead charge $25 for all-you-can-eat crawfish and unlimited beer and give any proceeds to the Team Gleason foundation.
The close-knit neighborhood surrounding the backyard boil quickly got on board, with neighborhood bars and businesses stepping up to support the effort.
George Pool, who was recently voted best bartender in the city in a Where Y’at contest, said that the nearby Mid-City Yacht Club donated five kegs to the effort as well as organizing and volunteer support.
Pool described his bar as “a community center, of a sort.” The bar, which was purchased, renovated and reopened after Hurricane Katrina using materials from the flooded house of the current owners, “has changed this neighborhood,” Pool said. Hosting it’s own seasonal crawfish boils on Fridays, Pool, the crawfish master cook, said that one dollar from each plate sold at the bar’s boils will go to charity.
The secret to a successful boil, said Hirsch, is “having good people, good crawfish and plenty of beer.”
Neighbor Scarlet Berckes said that many of the close to 400 people at the boil were part of a community that has worked together to rebuild their neighborhood following the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina that devastated much of Mid-City.
“It turned very gray,” Berckes said, choking up a little as she revisited the past seven years. It was about two years ago that “things started feeling better,” she said.
Friend and fellow Saints fan Miranda Cantu chimed in — “When we won the Super Bowl.”
Berckes agreed. “When we won the Super Bowl — that changed everything.”
Laurendie said that because of the recent hackathon, New Orleans is already emerging as a leader in the tech scene with future host cities like San Francisco and New York City following suit with plans for their own hackathons.
Gesturing to the scene, with the beat of the brass band, the smell of freshly boiled crawfish and the conversation between friends, neighbor Dustin Cupit said, “This is why we live here.”