Cortez Fishing Village was founded in the 1880s by settlers from North Carolina and is considered to be the oldest, and one of the last remaining, fishing villages in Florida.
Nothing brings out the locals quite like fresh seafood. And few places do seafood quite like the charming little historic fishing village nestled against the glittering Gulf of Mexico waters near Anna Maria Island.
Locals and tourists alike showed up, as they do every year, to Florida’s oldest fishing village for its Eighth annual Cortez Stone Crab and Music Festival at Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar. While perhaps not as steeped in tradition as the village’s renowned commercial fishing festival, which has remained one of Bradenton’s most beloved celebrations for nearly 40 years, the stone crab festival has quickly caught on as a favorite, largely because of the sweet, succulent meat found inside stone crab claws.
But residents weren’t just showing up for fish fry and crab meat.
"I’m here for the crafts," said Heather Weiner, who teaches language arts in Manatee County. "But the crab is nice, too."
You could find fresh peel and eat shrimp, gator bites and, of course, stone crab claws, as well as a variety of beverages, including what Weiner called "the best rum runners in town" at the festival, but what kept many residents around were the variety of local artists and vendors onsite.
Among them you could find 10th Avenue West Studios and their brightly enameled metal fish and sea life made from upcycled tin roofing. When they aren’t frequenting the latest seafood festival, you can locate them at their studio and home in The Village of the Arts just a street behind Motorworks Brewery.
"This is my favorite kind of event. I do all kinds of art shows, but these festivals, they’re always my favorite. This is a special place," said Kevin Webb, artist and co-owner of the studio.
Webb’s work wasn’t the only marine-themed art that could be found within the vicinity of seafood on Sunday. Jessica Ann, a marine life artist who actually studied marine biology and was born and raised in the Florida Keys, was also a vendor at the event, showcasing her bright and vibrant acrylics depicting hogfish, mahi-mahi and more. Her husband, Chris, grew up in the area, and the two of them find themselves returning for art shows and various events. The fishing villages, in many ways, remind them of the Keys they know and love, according to Ann.
But it’s hard to mention local vendors with sea-themed art without highlighting Lady Flo’s Sea Treasure Trinkets, which is run by Brittany Norment, a local Cortezian whose family has fished these waters for generations.
Her grandfather, John "Lightnin" Campbell, is a fifth-generation Cortez fisherman, while her late grandmother, Flo, who passed away in 2016, attended festivals like this every year where she sold magnets and trinkets much like the ones Norment sells now.
"She was ‘Famous Flo.’ People still come up to me to this day to tell me that they still have magnets my nanny sold them years ago. It’s pretty cool to be able to carry on that tradition," said Norment.
Tradition, according to Norment, is really what the fishing village, which is one of Florida’s last remaining, is all about. Festivals like the on Sunday help to preserve that, she said.
Sunday was about more than stone crab claw meat and other delectables. It was about continuing to carry a piece of old Florida into the future.
Some people showed up for the seafood. Others stayed for the crafts.