CrabFest cuts music as Levy BOCC pushes for injunction

CrabFest organizer Ken Gates
CrabFest organizer Ken Gates

The Levy County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is poised to file an injunction against the organizer of CrabFest 2021 in Williston if a special events permit is not filed by today.

CrabFest organizer Pastor Kenuel Gates said Monday that he canceled the music portion of the event so a special permit should not be necessary. The cancellation came in response to a March 23 letter from the Levy BOCC.

“It has come to our attention that you are planning an event in Williston called ‘Crabfest’ which is being advertised for April 24-25, 2021,” the letter said. “We have seen a variety of ads on social media, and it appears you are the organizer of the event and that you plan to have musical artists perform at Crabfest.”

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The letter states that because music performances are scheduled, the event then becomes a “musical or entertainment festival” and that it requires a special entertainment permit from the Levy BOCC in order to proceed. That permit, according to Gates, costs $600 and is non-refundable.

In addition to the potential injunction, the April 6 Levy BOCC meeting agenda includes proclamation 2021-039, which proclaims the month of April as “Williston Wants Peace—No More Violence” month.

“The City of Williston has a great desire for peace in unincorporated areas on the east side of Williston City Limits and the cancellation of Crab Fest to lessen the opportunities for violence to continue,” the proclamation says. “The Crab Fest event in more recent years has proved consistently to be the largest public safety challenge to Levy County and the city of Williston as it brings thousands of people from outside the Williston area.”

The proclamation points to three events as rationale for canceling the CrabFest event.

“WHEREAS, in April of 2013, a shooting occurred at the Crab Fest event killing one person and injuring four others while sending thousands of people scrambling for their safety; and WHEREAS, in September of 2020, a mass shooting of six people occurred after a protest turned block party ran late into the night and into the early morning; and WHEREAS, on February 20, 2021, Khajon Spikes, a young man from Williston, was senselessly gunned down and murdered leaving behind a grieving family.”

Gates said the shootings were not related to his event, but Levy County Sheriff’s spokesperson Scott Tummond said the events in the proclamation are accurate and all happened in the same area in East Williston, which is an unincorporated area covered by the LCSO.

Tummond said six people were shot and one died from shootings at the 2013 CrabFest event, and in September 2020, six people were shot at a block party in the same area and. Because it is still an open investigation, authorities have not released names and details.

Tummond shared a photo taken of a Next Generation protest in September 2020 showing part of the crowd and said the streets were covered in garbage the next day.

According to Tummond, Levy County can’t afford events such as CrabFest that cost from $10,000 to $30,000 to staff with law enforcement and ensure public safety.

“Can we handle it?” Tummond said about covering the CrabFest event. “Yes, we have for the last 27 years that I have been here.”

But Tummond said the LCSO counted at least 3,940 vehicles attending the 2019 event and estimated that most cars had at least two people riding in them. The 2020 CrabFest was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The dollar value of taxpayer money that the sheriff’s office has to pay for a singular event is the problem,” Tummond said. “It’s all hands on deck for LCSO for that weekend and Sheriff [Robert] MacCallum makes mutual aid requests to neighboring counties that include the ABT [Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco] and FHP [Florida Highway Patrol] and helicopters, all for a non-permitted event.” 

Tummond said the LCSO saw car tags from as far away as Pennsylvania and New York and that a lot of attendees came from those distances without realizing it was a street party in a rural area.

According to Gates, CrabFest is a family reunion event that brings in relatives from out of the area. He said it started in a neighborhood cul de sac in unincorporated East Williston known as Lincoln Heights, then moved to County Road 318 when it grew in popularity. 

“CrabFest has been going on for 35 years,” Gates said. “I’m a pastor. Why would I bring violence to the community? It’s not about CrabFest—it’s about shutting down my voice.”

Gates said he is a born and raised Williston native who attended both Williston and Bronson High Schools, where he played football and basketball. He went on to become a pastor for Victorious Life Church in Gainesville and now heads up Next Generation, a year-old nonprofit that advocates for racial equality.

Competing petitions have been circulating in the community about the event. One launched by Next Generation Williston says, “Ending CrabFest would be like ending the unity, taking away heritage, legacy and stripping at the community’s culture. The fest is the only annual event hosted in this small, undeveloped black community.”

Another petition launched by retired City of Williston employee Frankie Jackson states that CrabFest was started as a small neighborhood gathering that was fun and safe but that it has “grown so much and is out of control, and the amount of people coming here just makes it unsafe to have anymore.”

The Levy BOCC meeting starts at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. 

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