Blood, Sweat & Bonfires reignites in 2021; Animated blue crab design is 2 years in the making

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 1, 2021

GARYVILLE — Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires will light up the sky on Christmas Eve with a design that has been two years in the making. This group of talented River Parish bonfire builders is holding strong to Cajun roots with its 2021 bonfire design — a Louisiana blue crab complete with pinching claws and an animatronic mouth flap that blows bubbles.

Christmas Eve bonfires have burned bright in the River Parishes for generations. Some legends say the bonfire tradition was created to light the way for Papa Noel and his reindeer, while others recount that the bonfires lit a path to midnight Mass years before streetlights lined the River Road.

One thing is certain; groups like Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires are bringing new life to this age-old tradition by challenging the limits of what a bonfire can look like. These lifelong friends, children of the generation that constructed a world record holding 72-foot bonfire in 1979, have captured the attention of tourists from all over the world with imaginative, Louisiana-themed designs.

Animatronic features were added with 2017’s alligator snapping turtle bonfire and continued in subsequent years with a pelican and a colossal 60-foot alligator. In 2020, the group planned to discourage crowds by scaling back with a replica of the historic 1979 bonfire, but plans halted completely when St. John the Baptist Parish pulled the plug on Christmas bonfires due to COVID-19 concerns.

Rather than building a bonfire on the levee, the guys constructed a smaller alligator bonfire named “Saint” as a permanent structure at the River Parishes Tourist Commission office on Belle Terre Blvd. in LaPlace.

Parish President Jaclyn Hotard announced the return of the tradition in November 2021, stating, “Bonfires are a very special tradition, and residents work very hard crafting these structures to light the way for Papa Noel. We are excited to bring the Christmas bonfires back to St. John this year to help spread Christmas joy at a time when our community needs it most.”

Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires was back on the levee the day after Thanksgiving to begin work on the 2021 design. As always, the estimated completion date for the bonfire is December 17, giving the community one week to view the bonfire before it goes up in flames on Christmas Eve.

Group member Josh Weidert said Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires came up with the blue crab idea while working on the alligator bonfire in 2019.

“We had a few ideas out there for Louisiana-themed animals. We looked at it and figured we could do the most with the blue crab’s features,” Weidert said. “When you think of a blue crab, you think of the big, blue claws. Of course, we are putting the emphasis on that. We are going to involve some animatronics in it this year as we always do, but we’re going to take it a step further than we normally do. It’s more mechanical in some parts than what we have ever done before.”

According to Weidert, the crab’s claws are going to pinch open and shut, while its remote-controlled mouth flaps are going to crack open just wide enough to aim a stream of bubbles at visitors who climb up onto the levee near 3228 Highway 44 in Garyville. The blue crab’s body will measure about 25 feet wide, and each one of its claws will be 21 feet long when fully opened.

No one in the group is specially trained in engineering or architecture, but they bring a multitude of talents to the table. Members include Josh Weidert, Sammy Clement, Troy Torres, Darren Caillouet Jr., Brandon “Buggy B” Jones, Sonny Kilburn III, Darrell Button, Brandon Ledger, John Trosclair, Will Brignac, Aaron Sparks, Cody Roussel, Cavin Richmond, Wayne Weidert, Gator Millet, Bubby Hotard, Chase Hotard, Jay Comeaux, Steven Accardo , Joey Boe and Bubba Polo.

“I design the bonfires every year and throw on the table what I want to do. Sammy Clement is really good with the mechanics of everything. As far as scale and dimensions, it’s a group effort,” Josh Weidert said. “We have guys who know about electrical engineering, metal work, woodworking, weight distribution, a graphic designer, carpenters. A lot of guys in our group have trades that are necessary to what we are doing. Everybody brings something to the table, and it all works out good in the end.”

Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires  uses proceeds from donations and merchandise sales to fund the construction of the next year’s bonfire, while also making donations to local charities. More information on merchandise will be posted to the group’s Facebook page.

Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires encourages visitors, and the group is currently working with the levee board and parish officials to construct a staircase to make it easier to walk up the side of the levee.

“We never discourage people from coming out there. If you see us when you’re passing by, come on up there and hang out with us. We welcome everybody with open arms,” Weidert said.