KEY WEST, Florida — A Colorado man, competing in his late father's honor, won the men's division of the 52nd annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest on Saturday afternoon in Key West.
Michael Cox, 38, of Pueblo, triumphed by blowing a long, melodic two-toned blast on the fluted, pink-lined shell his father used to win almost 30 years ago. He followed it with an excerpt from George Gershwin 1935 classic "Summertime" played on a smaller shell.
"In 1986 my father, James 'Whistle' Cox was about the same age that I am today, so it was on my bucket list to come to Key West and do my duty and reclaim the family trophy," Michael Cox said.
Cox said his father gave him a trumpet when he was a child and he learned how to buzz his lips and play it. He spent two years practicing for his debut in the contest nicknamed the "Conch Honk."
"This was my father's shell, so I knew that was going to give me a leg up," he said. "It's already won one competition and now I'm so happy it's won another."
The contest attracted entrants ranging from age 3 to 77. The group winner was the Boca Chica Conchestra, composed of more than two dozen people who performed a wacky takeoff on the Village People's "YMCA."
Entrants were judged on the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they made. While most could only produce blasts or squeals, two intrepid competitors managed recognizable excerpts from Nikolai Rimsky- Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee."
Conch shells have been used as signaling devices in the Florida Keys for at least 200 years and the shell is a symbol of the island chain. Native-born islanders are called Conchs, and the Keys are nicknamed the Conch Republic.
The contest was conceived by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, founded in 1960 to advocate preservation of Key West's culture and historic buildings.
Old Island Restoration Foundation: http://www.oirf.org