Located over a thousand miles from the nearest ocean, it’s not a simple question in Southern Colorado: do you know what a conch shell is?
“Ummm…I have no idea,” Moriah Holt said.
“Uh, I don’t know,” Tevin Kinsey said.
“A seashell?” Daniel Lara said.
Not only have many not heard of a conch, which is a shell of a sea snail, even fewer have listened to it. But the winner of the 52nd annual Conch Blowing contest in Key West, Florida, lives over 2100 miles away, here in Pueblo.
“That’s a tricky thing to say, I just won the conch blowing contest, that get’s mostly smirks,” said Michael Cox. “Obviously there are a lot of jokes about something else that sounds similar.”
For Cox, it’s something that runs in the family.
“In 1986 my father won the conch blowing contest. He passed away about seven years after that,” Cox said. “He passed on his old trumpet to me and this time I felt it was my time to go win the conch shell contest as well.”
James ‘Whistle’ Cox was about the same age when he won his men’s division title.
Michael says he practiced for two years before finally entering the contest with his dad’s old conch, but nearly passed out as he began to play.
“While I was practicing to play the conch I wasn’t practicing for all the emotion that was going to overcome me,” Cox said.
Cox says his history of playing the trumpet helps. While most people can simply ‘honk’ the conch with a blast or a squeak, Cox is able to manage recognizable tunes like “New York, New York” and even Jimmy Buffet.
“It’s more of a fun, novel thing to do than a technically musical thing to do,” Cox said.
Contestants were judged on the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they make.
Conch shell blowing has been practiced in the Florida Keys for over 200 years. Early settlers would blow blasts to signal that a sinking ship had been spotted offshore. Key West is also known as the “Conch Republic.”
Cox hopes someday to enter his family in the group division.