Fresh seafood and pirates converge at Lobster Fest

When I think lobster, my mind jumps to its crustacean cousin, the shrimp. And when I think shrimp I dutifully think Forrest Gump — Bubba in particular, and the multitudinous ways the man knew how to cook a shrimp.

Then I get hungry, raid my pantry and eat the closest thing I have to shrimp, which is often canned tuna.

But that’s just me.

Katrina MacGregor | Daily Trojan

The usual image that comes to mind is steamed lobster by the bucket, melted butter and small-town New England, where the world’s finest shellfish are fished. Although the perks of living in Los Angeles are plentiful, authentic Maine lobster is unfortunately not one of them, meaning Angelenos are resigned to accept a meek substitute in Pacific lobster. Ask any seafood enthusiast and they’ll tell you Maine lobster is the cat’s pajamas.

The sad reality is that Los Angeles is geographically cut-off from the premium lobster catch for most of the year. But fear not, for this weekend, deprived Southern Californians can feast on New England’s finest.

For the 11th consecutive year the Port of Los Angeles will play host to the Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival, a three-day food and music extravaganza celebrating Maine’s tastiest treat. The festival begins today and runs through Sunday.

If binging on lobster tail is something you’re into, this is the festival for you. This weekend, more than 16 tons of fresh lobster will be flown directly from the rocky shores of the Gulf of Maine. A mere$18 gets you 1.25 pounds of succulent whole lobster plus cole slaw, potatoes, sweet bread and (naturally) sauce for dipping.

If that’s somehow not enough, there is always the option to double up with the “2 on a Plate Special,” which gives you a hulking two plates of 1.5 pounds of steamed deliciousness. If lobster isn’t your thing, you’re not out of luck. There are plenty of other seafood options, including steamed and fried clams and shrimp dishes galore as well meat alternatives.

A smorgasbord of chicken, steak, tri-tip and ribs prepared in Jamaican, Chinese and Thai traditions will be readily available as well as carnival staples like funnel cake and roasted corn. Feasting is family style and large eating tents will accommodate everyone.

The food, however, is not Lobster Fest’s only draw. After you awake from a lobster-induced food coma there is plenty more to enjoy. Though the carnival will have the obligatory street vendors and men on stilts, this is not the average hokey food fest.

Will there be lobster-themed tchotchkes? Yes. Is that all there is left to see? No.

This year’s music lineup is sponsored by L.A. radio juggernaut KROQ and its Locals Only show, which seeks to promote local independent bands that would normally not get significant airplay on commercial radio stations. As a result, the bill is an expansively eclectic mix of up-and-coming indie acts. These are no hack-jobs either. A young Jason Mraz played the first Lobster Fest and this year’s Friday night headliner will be Saint Motel, a newcomer that has made quite the splash on the Los Angeles music scene.

Heralded for its energy and showmanship, the members of Saint Motel met in film school and have been making great hard-pop ever since. The four-piece’s history is important as there is a palpable cinematic quality that beats true in its music. Whether it’s marrying filmed images to up-tempo stage performances, or the theatricality of songs like “Butch” and “Dear Dictator,” Saint Motel has made a name for itself as one of the most refreshingly inventive bands on the indie scene today. They will hit the Lobster Fest stage tonight at 9 p.m.

The lineup for tonight might be the strongest of the three days (with Spider Problem, Venus Infers and Saint Motel), but Saturday and Sunday have the best blend of sound and styles.

Saturday’s headliner Dengue Fever is perhaps the most intriguing of all the acts, as lead singer Chhom Nimol’s vocals are almost entirely in her native Cambodian. Three acts to keep an eye on are Fitz and The Tantrums (playing Saturday at 8 p.m.), Awolnation (Saturday, 5 p.m.) and Devon Eisenbarger (Sunday, 12:30 p.m.).

Fitz and The Tantrums fuse new wave and soul with retro-inspired instrumentals, creating a new sound that’s oddly familiar and annoyingly catchy. Awolnation is a must for any science-fiction fiend — its aggressive punk-electro vibe and new album Back From Earth are inspired by the space exploration fiction of the 1950s. In addition, Devon Eisenbarger is touted as the festival’s rising star. Her sound is bluesy, and the 18-year-old recently studied music at USC.

Another draw of Lobster Fest is the pirates and sea-ladies. Yes, pirates. Their mission, according to the website, is to find the captain’s treasure. A little confused, I asked the festival’s producer Jim Hall: Why pirates?

He said that everyone loves pirates, especially the kids,

“There is that special moment when you’re a young kid and you get up close to something you only imagined,” Hall said. “It becomes that one thing that you remember for the rest of your life.”

The pirates are just another part of Lobster Fest’s eccentric charm. Last year Lobster Festival set a Guinness World Record for the most seafood served at an outdoor event. Paying only $18 for a lobster dinner is a great deal in itself, and with top-notch contemporary musical acts, old-fashioned carnival fun, and pirates, this year’s Lobster Fest should be a fairground experience like no other.

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