RED RIVER REVEL
Shreveport will hold the annual Red River Revel Oct.4-11. This alliterative arts festival has received international recognition and attracts 180,000 visitors over the course of its eight-day run. It’s ranked in the top 100 Fine Arts Festival by Sunshine Artist magazine, and was named a “Travel Treasure” by the AAA Southern Traveler. It also placed in the top 75 Events in North America by the American Business Association and with little wonder. The event attracts both Louisianians and non-Bayou State dwellers, bringing in a whopping $10 million to the local economy.
Almost resembling a medieval fair, the festival is filled with vividly colored tented booths displaying the art work of more than 100 juried artists from across the United States, such as Ron Atwood, Chase Mullen, Camille Ellington, Taffie Garsee, Jill Shank and Chester Allen. Exhibits, lectures and performing arts programs are held on the three outdoor stages.
Consider the food to be partaken: funnel cakes dusted with powdered sugar; Natchitoches meat pies; shrimp and chicken baskets; fried catfish; blackened catfish with dirty rice; crawfish ettoufee; roasted corn; red beans and rice; Muffaletta pizza; skewered grilled shrimp, and of course, hot dogs, corndogs and the Down Home Sausage Dog. There’s even a doughnut grilled cheese sandwich.
This celebration was a gift to the region from the Junior League of Shreveport to commemorate the 1976 Bicentennial. Their generosity and richness of heart garnered a community of dedicated volunteer that consistently attains the original goal of providing Ark-La-Tex with a joyous appreciation of fine visual and performing arts. It was also the winner of the President’s Volunteer Action Award in 1988.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN SHREVEPORT
I found opera to be even more beautiful when Live From the Metropolitan Opera broadcast its productions with subtitles that revealed the romantic lyricism of each libretto. It was like hearing all the works of the Romantic poets set to music wafting through my home along with the fresh autumn air from the opened window.
The Shreveport Opera is one of the oldest opera companies in the United States. There in the Ark-La-Tex region, this 65-year-old grand diva has hosted the likes of Leontyne Price, Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes and Franco Corelli. It was also the stepping-stone that helped launch the career of the exquisitely talented, internationally acclaimed Renee Fleming.
The productions are beautifully mounted, costumed and performed. With a gallery of attractive resident artists and dedicated, hardworking company members, the opera stages three professional productions a year that are of high quality. The Shreveport-Bossier area, in the form of patrons, opera guild, foundations and corporations has offered strong support that keeps the company singing and the music playing. Scheduled for Sept. 12, 2014, Music of the Night, a fundraiser that supports the Shreveport Opera Xpress (SOX), an educational outreach program that impacts 50,000 children, adults and youth about the social messages of their performances, offers a cocktail hour, seated dinner and silent auction, all enhanced by beautiful performances of company artists Sarah Bauer, Gillian Cotter, Ryan Bradford, Johnathan Riesen and Michael Gaetner.
The opera company will commence its 66th season on Nov. 15 with a production of Verdi’s La Traviata (the fallen woman.) It’s based on Dumas’ book, La Dame aux Camelias; movie fans might recognize it as the same tragic story of Camille. Productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, and Rossini’s Cenerentola (Cinderella) are slated for February and April 2015, respectively.
Music of the Night, East Ridge Country Club, 1000 Stewart Drive, Shreveport.
Red River Revel, Oct. 4-11, Festival Plaza, 101 Crockett St., Shreveport, redriverrevel.com.
FAIR DAYS IN RAPIDES PARISH
Lying at the very heart of Louisiana, Rapides Parish, except for the larger city of Alexandria, is a mostly agrarian community and unflinchingly proud of it. A drive from Marksville in Avoyelles Parish to Alexandria on an autumn day is filled with emerald fields and country houses; crops and livestock are interspersed along the scenic way in the tawny fall sunlight. Rapides is family- and community-oriented; each year Rapides Parish thanks its populace for its upbeat esprit d’corps in the form of a celebratory Parish fair.
This year, the fair’s already excellent midway has been amped up a notch or two with new attractions. The Hard Rock, perfect for adrenaline junkies, is filled with flashing lights that add to the thrills. Surf’s Up is geared for the entire family to ride together. This giant surfboard from Zamperla, Italy, is 40 feet long and spins on a 100-foot long track. Monster Trucks, a children’s ride, pops wheelies on a track controlled by the sound of engines being gunned.
This annual fest includes wonderful family-oriented entertainment and delicious food that always seems to be produced in rural areas from farmhouse kitchens, not to mention the fine restaurants that are springing up in the area. The adorable barnyard nursery is not to be missed.
In the course of this four-day celebration, a cheerleading competition is held and a queen is crowned. Open livestock shows are available for young people from selected parishes. These open shows break down into the four categories: beef; goat; poultry (all bird entries must be pre-tested for Typhoid/Pullorim) and rabbit.
After 53 years of celebrating at the Rapides Coliseum, this year the fair will have a new location at Highway 71 South, next to the State Evac Shelter.
FORTIFIED WITH SPRITS
On the outskirts of the small yet bustling town of Marksville is a historic cemetery that was once the site of a Civil War engagement known as the Battle of Fort DeRussy. In 1862, the fort became a cemetery filled with unmarked Civil Ward dead graves. According to the book, Gumbo Ya-Ya, after the battle, the dead were unceremoniously deposited in a long trench dug on the grounds, without the benefit of a religious ceremony. For years, the minority of the number of souls brave enough to venture through the densely wooded area of Fort DeRussy avow seeing headless soldiers marching solidly through the trees. Mingling with the night sounds of crickets and cicadas, others have reported hearing blood-curdling screams coming from the direction of the fort.
In order to prevent anyone disturbing the unmarked graves of the soldiers’ portions of the eerily quiet fort have been cordoned off. Some say a witch is buried somewhere near the cul de sac…ah, but this is just one strange tale of Louisiana.
Published in 1940, written by Lyle Saxon, Edward Dreyer and Robert Tallant, Gumbo Ya-Ya (everyone talks at once) still remains one of the most entertaining compilations of the stories, customs, legends, myths, and folklore of Louisiana. It’s a fascinating, nearly 600-page long collection of the customs and legends that originated from the French, Spanish, Creole, Cajun, Indian and slave cultures that formed our state. Like the Bayou State, tales of ghosts, loup garoux, cemeteries, voodoo and the unique beliefs of all who settled here are gathered together in a rich, thick tome that doesn’t have one uninteresting page and reads like a cultural melting pot. Gumbo Ya-Ya opens the creaking door of time to let the past replay itself in a spellbinding way. It is a droll, excellent read for chilly autumn nights.
Rapides Parish Fair: Oct. 8-12, herapidesparishfair.com.
Gumbo Ya-Ya, Pelican Publishing.
TOURNOI DANS VILLE PLATTE
As a crown jewel moment that ends the Louisiana Cotton Festival in Ville Platte, the ancient practice of le tournoi is held looking like a scene stolen from a medieval tapestry of time. Le Tournoi, a French phrase that means “tournament,” is the knightly practice of jousting originated by the French. When an officer in Napoleon’s Army, Major Marcellin Garand decided to found the town of Ville Platte, he likewise decided to establish the tradition of Le Tournoi there as well in the early 1800s. The practice ended in the 1880s, and it wasn’t until 1948 when a group of local World War II veterans got together that it experienced a rebirth. There is a Louisiana Tournoi Association that allows competitions statewide, but the final championship must take place in Ville Platte.
It’s quite a spectacle. Participants don knightly garb, and sporting a long slender lance, ride hell-for-leather on horseback around a quarter mile, semicircle track as a bugle accompanies the drumbeat of pounding hooves. Suspended on seven posts placed at intervals on the track are tall poles with tiny dangling rings that symbolize the enemies of cotton, i.e., boll weevil, bollworm, flood, drought, plus silk, rayon and nylon. The knight’s objective is to lance and retain as many rings as possible. It takes three heated runs to decide the champion.
The Louisiana Cotton Festival is a sprawling event that covers several locations over five days. LeTournoi will be held after the festival parade has filled the streets with color and enjoyment at Ville Platte’s Industrial Park.
GERMANFEST IN ROBERT’S COVE
Robert’s Cove is, paradoxically, a dispersed yet tightly-knit little community near Rayne drenched in German heritage and history like bread dipped in May wine.
In 1867, due to the huge amount of German immigrants who were in New Orleans, Fr. Peter Leonard Thevis, a priest who hailed from Langbroich, Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany was asked to travel south to minister to the German flock. Thirteen years later, Fr. Thevis and some companions arrived by rail in Rayne and selected a site nearby for a new colony. Thus, Robert’s Cove was born, named for the original owner of a Spanish land grant. German Catholics escaping persecution from the Gangelt, Geilenkirchen district, soon found their way to the settlement. The Benedictine priests established the church of St. Leo IV, a parish that thrives to this day as the cultural center and heart of Robert’s Cove. Unfalteringly German for decades, the nation-wide World War I anti-German hysteria brought an end to their rich culture when the Louisiana State Legislature passed Act 114 that banned all things German, including expressions of their traditions and the spoken or written word. Although many had to give up speaking German, they didn’t abandon their customs and traditions.
In 1995, the local community established Germanfest, a perfect venue to see these once-verboten traditions celebrated. The festival, held on the grounds of St. Leo IV Church, is rich with events like an historic Heritage Walking tour and demonstrations of rice threshing, blacksmithing and sack-sewing. Tours of the German Heritage Museum are also available. The sounds of traditional folk songs and hymns are performed by the Germanfest Folk Singers accompanied by folk dancers, including the Kinder Auftritt, a dancing and singing group peopled with the local children.
Delicious, hearty German fare is there to wash down with hearty German beer: beef or potato stew; sauerkraut; brats or sausage; apfel kuchen (German Apple Cobbler) and zucher platzkens (German sugar cookies). This year, the festival will hold a competition for the best German-style home-brewed beer.
MADE IN HEAVEN IN NAPOLEONVILLE
Madewood Plantation on Bayou LaFourche in Napoleonville is so sweepingly beautiful a plantation, from the stateliness of the Ionic columns that command its sugar-white entrance, to the breathtaking interior filled with half-testers, full testers, armoires, antiques, flowing balustrades and gleaming floors that it fairly shrieks, Holy David O. Selznick!
This mansion, built circa 1846, and once home to the Godchaux Family of the sugar fortune fame, now graces the area as a peaceful, exquisite bed-and-breakfast with multiple guest rooms, including the “Mystery Lady Room” and “The Brad Pitt Room.” The grounds are graced by trees with wisps of Spanish moss that undulate softly in the breezes from Bayou Lafourche.
Yet this bit of Antebellum Eden has had a touch of the vapors in the form of The Unexplained. There is a cemetery on the grounds that broach no disrespect. One day when workmen decided to lunch on pizza in the cemetery, a cranberry-colored glass epergne – a large table ornament with multi-attached hanging glass baskets for bon bons or flowers – flew across the breakfast table in the dining room of Madewood, all in the presence of a Metropolitan opera start who was a guest. The epergne shattered.
A relative of the original owners of Madewood was being buried in the cemetery along with her small white dog. A family friend of the current owners was ambling inside the plantation house when she saw a small white dog running before her; the little dog was never seen again.
A stay at Madewood is unforgettable. Remembering your manners and proper cemetery etiquette will undoubtedly keep your visit peaceful undisturbed.
Although it has a French name and appears ubiquitously in Cajun cooking, andouille, the delightful staple smoked sausage of the Bayou State was born from cultural influences as diverse as Louisiana itself. Along La Cote des Allemands, the German Coast lying cradled within St. Charles and St. John the Baptist Parishes, Germans settled alongside Acadians, Africans, Creoles and French. All cultures contributed their little soupcon of flavor to the tradition of sausage making brought here courtesy of the Germans. Made of pork and rich spices, LaPlace in St. John the Baptist Parish is the go-to spot for fine andouille. The German Coast area has been a sausage-making mecca for nearly two centuries.
First held in 1972 at the LaPlace Drag Strip, the Andouille Festival was the brainchild some local officials and the local Fire Department. Since then, the festival has regularly hosted thousands of people for three days of great live music, carnival rides and that divine link, the andouille sausage. Cooking contests incorporating these sausage wonders are divided into three categories: various dishes, jambalaya and gumbo.
Community restaurants provide festival goers with delicious eats in the fresh autumn air, such as crawfish bisque, crawfish meatloaf, chicken and andouille gumbo, spaghetti jambalaya, smoked okra with shrimp and andouille, andouille corndogs, shrimp and andouille nachos, to name a few. St. Joan of Arc Church usually provides beverages.
Arts and crafts are situated all over the grounds. Check out T-shirts, jewelry, books, accessories, shoes, dresses, ceramics, pralines and palm readings by Sister Charlotte. All proceeds go to various local charities.
41st Annual Andouille Festival, Oct. 17-18, 2014 Hwy. 51 Park/St. John Community Center, LaPlace.
Madewood Plantation, 4250 Louisiana 308, Napoleonville, (985) 369-7151.
WOODEN SHIPS UPON THE WATER
There are times in my life when I sometimes feel I was either a version of the character Loxi played by Paulette Goddard in the movie, Reap the Wild Wind, or at least a lighthouse keeper’s wife in a previous incarnation due to the profound love I have for water and wooden ships. The Titanic with all its steel and metal may have been a maritime wonder, but it pales in comparison to the swelling grace of a wooden ship propelled by geometric billowing sails.
The Wooden Boat Festival in Madisonville is a three-day outdoor festival in October held on the Tchefuncte River as the watchful eye of the supposedly haunted lighthouse stands sentry. Sponsored by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum, it is a means to pay tribute to the beauty and craftsmanship of wooden boats all along the Gulf Coast. The Tchefuncte River is lined with gleaming vessels as attendees enjoy live music, great Cajun victuals and many activities. All proceeds from the celebration support the educational programs of the LPBMM along with the restoration of the beautiful old lighthouse. The LPBMM pays homage to the importance that these boats – canoes, pirogues and steamboats – played in the watery history of the Bayou State.
One of the most popular parts of the festival is the Quick ‘n’ Dirty Boat Building Constest: contestants have 14 hours to build a boat out of materials with which they are provided.
The festival is launched on Oct. 10, at 7:30 p.m. with the Maritime Mania party filled with libations, great food and a chance to mingle with wooden boat captains.
BREAD UPON THE WATERS IN COVINGTON
There’s a new eatery in town that stars an experienced and brilliant chef, Robert Coello. This new restaurant is called Prime by C3, created and powered by a unique concept. Church-sponsored, all of its profits are donated to help the poor, hurting and outcast of the community. It was the brainchild of Pastor Jeff Hummel, who helms the non-denominational City Church Covington. Each month, the restaurant targets a chosen charitable organization to receive all of its profits. Casting their bread upon the waters, Prime by C3 is run with the highest of gourmet professionalism.
Coello’s dishes are a continuous work in progress as his creativity constantly evolves. He has an appetizer sampler from which it would be hard to choose just one:
Shrimp “fleur de lis,” two blackened grits cakes christened with four jumbo shrimp in a tasso cream; eggplant Josephine with lump crab meat; panko-fried eggplant, and sautéed diced red bell pepper and asparagus, in a remoulade sauce. Entrees have a touch of the divine, such as the Mac ‘n’ Cheese Cake, the ultimate comfort food with its composition of roast beef and gravy poured over the cheesy noodle cake. Malted waffles, chicken that is first smoked, then fried, maple andouille sauce and a potato nest comprise the Chicken and Waffles dish.
But perhaps the tender Prime Rib smoked with apple wood and served in its own jus with horseradish aioli could be considered the ultimate offering by Prime by C3. The Two Hand Sandwiches moniker can be taken literally. Paradoxically, in a restaurant dedicated to the service of the Almighty, the Prime Press-Boy wherein smoked prime rib, smoked gouda cheese swimming in jus and horseradish mayo soaking the panini grilled French bread is an almost sinfully delicious indulgence. A toasted garlic and rosemary brioche with melted brie and apricot preserves encompasses the marvelous grilled cheese sandwich.
Wooden Boat Festival, Oct. 10-12, Madisonville, woodenboatfest.com
Prime by C3, 328 Lee Lane, Covington, (985) 327-7990