“I was loving the fishcamp jam!! Then when it all hit the fan, tables were being flipped over and people just scrambling, running EVERYWHERE!! People falling in the street along with the bones from the salt n pepper catfish.” – Andi Eisert
In the 1980′s and 90′s, Gastonia North Carolina held it’s Annual Fish Camp Jam each Fall. With up to 100,000 people a day attending, it was considered one of the largest street festivals in the Southeast in its time. It celebrated all things Fish Camps, something I got my fill of these past two days.
Fish camps originated as sheds where anglers could fry their fresh catches. The earliest began in the 1930′s and 40′s along the Catawba River, on the east side of Gaston County. Fish camps later evolved into restaurants in the 1950s. They are “no frills” establishments – no table clothes, alcohol, or credit cards accepted. What they do have – platefuls of all you can eat deep fried fish, country vegetables, hush puppies, sweet tea, Sundrop, vanilla pudding, and many other artery clogging goodies. My favorite dish - salt and pepper fried catfish with sweet potato, hush puppies, slaw, vegetable soup, and a bottle of Pepto Bismol. But I regress.
The topic of conversation I like to bring up to the locals is the fateful day of Fish Camp Jam, 1991. 10 years before I arrived in Gastonia, the greatest R&B group to be nominated for a prom theme graced the main stage - Boyz II Men. The hazy details of the rest of the night has been nothing less than modern folklore. However, I want to get down to the true story.
Using my journalistic investigative reporting, I discovered eye witness accounts through the facebook group, “I Saw Boyz 2 Men at Fish Camp Jam and Lived to Tell the Tale.” Here are some excerpts.
Angie – “I was down at the catfish races bleachers and some little girl ran up to us and said someone was shooting …we took off running all the way to broad st without stopping!”
Tony – “Jan (withheld) and I had just gotten up to the stage when it happened. People ran one direction then the other. I remember someone said”He’s got a gun!” We ended up around Ozark somewhere.”
Danny – “It was just fireworks. That’s the worst part. Gotta love the gas house!”
Anike – “All I know is Boyz II Men were up there I was jamming and then it was like an ocean wave people started turning around and running, like wise, I turned and ran too then heard the infamous words, “He has a gun” and I ran and hurdled trash cans and all I could think of was get to the car, Mama and Grandma will find me.”
Malik: “I was standing there when these guys got into it and one of the guys had a bookbag in front of it like he had a gun and someone yell he got a gun and that started it all then h**l broke loose no shot was fired but d**n I had to run and got behind this little a** tree and watch people get ran over. And (name withheld) get stop up by the bridge for having a d**n BB gun and he don’t have anything to do with the s**t that happen”
TJ – “I remember they were singing “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye.” In the middle of that phrase It’s so haaaard “he got a gun rang out!!” Thats all it took, my family broke out like running backs. It was just fireworks.”
I will continue to search for clues, but hope someone out there will provide answers to these questions:
1.) Fireworks, bb gun, semi-automatic, or bubble wrap – what startled the crowd?
2.) Could the last place catfish be involved in causing the riot to distract from his loss?
3.) Will Motownphilly ever come back again?