Gulf Coast style food, fun and entertainment have long been associated with the Texas Crab Festival, and in its 29th year, the festival continues to offer a myriad of exciting attractions including wiener dog races, a two-step dance contest, a crab gumbo cook off, washers tournament, crab races, carnival rides and midway games, arts and crafts booths, and much more.
Tickets for the festival, set for May 9-11 at Gregory Park in Crystal Beach, are $10 each on Friday and Saturday with free admission on Sunday, Mother’s Day.
The wiener dog races have become a popular annual attraction at the festival, said Tom Osten, Texas Crab Festival chairman.
“There is a local dog named Harvey who seems to win every year, but everybody tries to beat him. It’s kind of a fun little event that has been going on every year.”
Osten said registration for the wiener dog races is preferred through the Texas Crab Festival website, but festivalgoers are invited to bring their wiener dogs, register on race day and attempt to defeat the defending champ dachshund.
The festival’s two-step dance contest is another popular attraction, with music provided by Nashville’s own Donnie Vondra. There is no entry fee and the best dancers win cash prizes.
In addition to Donnie Vondra, the Texas Crab Festival will offer a talented musical lineup including Grammy-award winner Wayne Toups,Ezra Charles, BJ Thibodeaux, StillCrusin’, Kelly Brown & The Bad Monkeys, Three Way Switch, House of Disciples Band, Jerry Diaz & Hanna’s Reef, The Ken Marvel Band, and other local talent.
“People come to festivals for the music,” Osten said. “You can have all the food booths, crafts, and carnival rides you want, but people still like to come for the music. That’s a very important part of our festival.”
Like most festivals, food is a major attraction at the Texas Crab Festival as well.
“We’ve got about 20 food vendors that serve a wide range of foods, but we try to offer as many crab dishes as possible,” Osten said. “We even have a crab dish contest among the food vendors. There will also be your typical festival food — pork kabobs, funnel cakes, hamburgers, corndogs — and a lot of unique seafood dishes.”
There are plenty of fun activities for the kids too, Osten said, including a crab legs contest.
“This is a children’s talent show … where they will compete for ribbons and medals,” he said.
The kid’s stage will feature an entertainer, balloon art and various kids’ games, and the crab arcade will offer a variety of crab-themed games.
“These are operated by local church, school and other charitable organizations,” Osten said. “We offer them free space to conduct … games, so they can have an opportunity to earn a little money and get their kids involved in the Crab Festival. Whether it’s the beanbag toss or basketball throw, it’s all crab-related.”
The crab races are another tradition both the children and adults will love, Osten said.
“These are live crabs from Galveston Bay that are kept in a tank,” he said. “Everyone that wants to enter the crab races will select a crab out of the tank and put it in the starting gate. The gate is opened and the crabs will tend to run downhill because it’s sloped. Everyone is issued a battery-powered squirt gun so you can kind of urge the crab along. It’s a cute, little event. Everyone loves it.”
Saturday morning kicks off with the Texas Crab Festival 5K Run and 1K Family Walk at 8 a.m. and prior to the festival opening at 10 a.m., Osten said.
“This year it is a certified run,” he said. “We’ve got a certified course and hope to attract the more serious runners.”
There will also be a Crab Gumbo Cook Off — all proceeds go to charity and winners are announced later on Saturday.
The Texas Crab Festival is a nonprofit corporation whose mission, according to its website, is “to increase educational and career opportunities for Bolivar Peninsula residents of all ages, and to support local organizations that further the goal of improving the lives of the residents of Bolivar Peninsula.” According to the website, “to date, over $30,000 of the festival proceeds have been distributed to local schools, charities, and organizations.”
“The Crab Festival has always given back to the community,” Osten said. “Last year we were able to give a significant amount of money back to the community in the form of scholarships, summer camps for kids, and to various nonprofit organizations on the peninsula like the Lions Club.”
It is perhaps for this reason that the festival has persisted for nearly thirty years and even after Hurricane Ike devastated the Bolivar Peninsula in 2008.
“The Crab Festival was not interrupted even after Hurricane Ike,” Osten said. “We lost a lot of booths, we lost a lot of our equipment, but it continued on, showing a lot of resolve in the community. We weren’t going to let a devastating hurricane like that change our way of life.”
Surviving the costliest hurricane in Texas history affords Texans even more reason to celebrate their resolve at the Crab Festival, continuing a tradition that started in 1985 with a few local business folks looking for a way to promote business and tourism in Crystal Beach.
What began with a few hundred people currently boasts thousands annually, and as the festival continues to grow, so too will the Bolivar Peninsula economy.
For more information on the Texas Crab Festival, visit www.texascrabfestival.org 
Gregory Park is at 2292 State Highway 87 in Crystal Beach, Texas.