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Sound the Horn! "Conch Honk" Key West Conch Blowing Contest Returns

Posted on: March 1st , 2024 | Events & Festivals
Sound the Horn!

True to its name, the Conch Republic doesn’t stop at conch fritters. It also uses the attractive sea mollusk as a musical instrument.

Calusa natives were known to use conchs as a means to communicate between islands. Bahamian cultures also used the Queen conch for the same purpose. The bountiful instrument of the sea was later adopted by island settlers in the 19th century to signal fresh shipwrecks to their fellow “wreckers,” or shipwreck salvagers.

Conch blowing contests have a long history on the island since the 1960s, and continue today. This year, you can enjoy the 61st Annual Key West Conch Shell Blowing Contest (unofficially known as the “Conch Honk”) on March 9, 2024 from 12 - 2 p.m. at the Oldest House Museum (322 Duval St.), the oldest wooden house on the island.

The Conch Honk brings together all ages and abilities to have a go in a contest judged on loudness, duration, and tone. Entries range from signal calls to all-out melodies. It’s entertaining, funny, and part of what gives the island the reputation of “Key Weird.” Kids can even get in on the fun by stopping by the training station to learn how to sound the conch.

[An Easygoing Recipe for Conch Salad, a Key West Staple]

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Elsewhere in Key West, you’ll find the conch celebrated almost everywhere, as the conch itself has been a visual symbol of the island and its inhabitants since its inception.

During your stop at the iconic Southernmost Point Buoy, take a photo with the bronze likeness of Bishop Albert Kee. Regarded as the island’s “ambassador of goodwill,” Kee greeted tourists in the area by blowing a conch until his death in the early 2000s. The beloved Conch is now memorialized with a statue, complete with a Queen conch.

Where to Buy a Conch Shell in Key West

If you’re visiting the island outside of its designated conch blowing competition date, you can still buy your very own conch shell as a souvenir to hone your skill. We suggest The Shell Warehouse in Mallory Square, which is abundant in its collection. If you want to do more than just hear the ocean, select a conch with the tip sawed off – that means it’s ready to be played.

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How to Blow a Conch Shell

Like mastering any instrument, it takes some practice to get the best sound out of your conch. Here are just a few tips to master the mollusk:

-Select a shell that is slightly larger than your hand, but not so large that you can’t cover any small holes in the shell. The mouthpiece should be between the diameter of a dime and a quarter.

-Hold the conch comfortably in your dominant hand and use your fingers to cover any holes in the shell.

-Purse your lips tightly and place the top part of the shell (where the top has been removed) to your mouth. It may be helpful to wet your lips to achieve a better vibration. The buzzing sound made from the lips gets amplified by the shell, much like any horned instrument.

-Take a deep breath and blow out forcefully through the hole, causing your lips to vibrate and sound the conch. If you’re having a hard time getting the “buzz,” try tightening or loosening your lips to find your sweet spot.

-Once you’re able to create noise, you can lessen the pitch by loosening your lips (like you’re blowing a kiss) or forcing the air through your lips faster, which will cause a higher pitch. Holding the shell with two hands can also change the pitch of the conch.

[A Beginner’s Guide to the Conch Cuisine of Key West]

Registration for the Annual Conch Blowing Contest begins at 10 a.m. There will be some conchs for sale to compete in the event. If you’re just observing for fun, the contest begins at 12 p.m., March 9, 2024. Register for the Conch Shell Blowing Contest.

Planning a stay in Key West? Check out 24 North Hotel’s best rates. We have an on-site Starbucks, shuttle service to Old Town, and our pool area is one of the best on the island. See our special offers. Florida and Georgia residents can also enjoy special discounted rates!

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