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Key West holds 53rd annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest


KEY WEST, Florida — A 64-year-old Key West tow truck driver won the men's division Saturday at this island's 53rd Conch Shell Blowing Contest.

 Eddie Webb, who said he began blowing the fluted, pink-lined shell some 35 years ago, impressed the judges by playing long, loud blasts followed by a classical song excerpt.

 "To be a good conch shell sounder, you've got to have good strength in your lips to get a high-pitched 'pffft' sort of thing while pressing against the hole," Webb said after the contest.

 Webb said he plays in the conch horn corps for the Conch Republic Navy, the ceremonial navy of the Florida Keys' lighthearted alter ego, the Conch Republic.

Conch shells have been used as signaling devices in the Keys for centuries, and native-born islanders are called Conchs. The meat of the hardy sea mollusk is used in conch chowder and conch fritters, two popular Keys dishes.

Other contest winners included Key West's Kyla Bender, 11, who performed an excerpt from Aram Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" while wearing an elaborate tiara.

Judges evaluated entrants from a 3-year-old child to seniors on the quality, novelty, duration and loudness of the sounds they produced. Unlike Bender and Webb, some could only manage feeble squawks.

"If you can't get it right, keep trying and you'll get it," said Webb. "Once you feel that sound and you get the right pucker on your lips to make it, you'll know where it is — and then you can carry on for as long as you want."

The contest was organized by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, founded in 1960 to preserve Key West's culture and historic buildings.



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