The origins of the enormously popular and oddly-named celebration of mud, local potters, good food and community spirit, in Old Town Bay St. Louis.
- story by LB Kovac, photos by Ellis Anderson
This SOUPer Mudfest kicks off Saturday, March 10, at 4 p.m., near the corner of Main and Second streets. Early bird sales of bowls begin at 3:30 p.m.
Specially themed Second Saturdays, like "Dolly Should" in January and "Frida Fest" in July have become beloved highlights of the year.
And there's SOUPer Mudfest each March, now in its ninth year. It's expected to attract more than one thousand people to the Old Town district during its one-night-only stint.
And, with just $20, you can be a part.
Despite Moynan’s positive attitude, she and the rest of the Bay St. Louis community had a steep hill to climb in the wake of one of our country’s worst natural disasters. Before SOUPer Mudfest, there was just a “mudfest.” Moynan said, “It was disgusting downtown” in the days after Katrina.
The streets downtown, where Moynan and other community members had their businesses, were practically rubble, and “everyone was wearing shrimp boots to get around,” she said.
With conditions so bad, it was difficult to attract shoppers.
But business owners embraced the dirtiness and grittiness, turning it into a chance to celebrate the spirit of living and survival. People decorate their shrimp boots and come out for Second Saturday. The soiree went on.
Eventually, though, the streets were repaired, and downtown Bay St. Louis returned to something that seemed more or less normal. There was no more mud, no more shrimp boots.
Moynan saw the void left by the old mudfest. “I owned a gallery at the time, and I represented a lot of potters,” she said. Potters, being “mudslingers,” could provide the “mud” part of a new mudfest. “I got with the potters and said, ‘Let’s make bowls and sell soup with the bowls,” Moynan said.
It was a chance for the Bay’s restaurant and business owners, herself included, to show off some of their best recipes, and the town to show that, despite the destruction of the last few years, it was still alive and kicking. Mudfest, like Bay St. Louis, experienced a rebirth.
That first year, Moynan’s gathered a team of six potters to make 280 bowls, as well as a host of local businesses to serve soup. They set up shop under a tent at the corner of Main and 2nd streets. With a price tag of $20 per bowl, the Mudfest’s entire stock sold out in the first hour of the event. It seems that Bay St. Louis residents were hungry for such an event.
0Every year since, SOUPer Mudfest has grown. This year, Moynan says that 8 to 10 potters will create more than 800 bowls and attendees will be treated to soups from 30 local businesses. In the past, tomato basil, white bean osso buco, corn and crab bisque, and the Southern staple gumbo have all been on the menu, but Moynan said, “You have no idea what you’re in for this year. It’s always something cool and interesting.”
SOUPer Mudfest continues to be a chance for visitors and community members to “see how fantastic our town is,” Moynan said. The $20 fee doesn’t just buy a bowl or free soup. The money, split among the potters, Old Town Merchants’ Association, Hancock County Food Pantry, and the Hancock County Tourism board, goes to maintaining the indomitable, Bohemian spirit that makes Bay St. Louis great.
This SOUPer Mudfest kicks off Saturday, March 10, at 4 p.m., near the corner of Main and Second streets. Early bird sales of bowls begin at 3:30 p.m. If you join in, Moynan said, “You might find a new artist you fall in love with.” Or a business. Or a whole town.