No other state in the union celebrates anything and everything like Louisiana, and this month the merry-making really starts to roll. We’ve got more festivals on the horizon than a crawfish boil has runaway crustaceans, so consider the following merely an introduction, organized by region, to help sort out who’s celebrating what and where they’re doing it.
There may be too many festivals to catch them all but you can sure have fun trying!
The shaggy Scottish cattle of Dr. Alan and Sharon Cameron’s 320-acre farm in Minden will see some company on April 5, when Scotland Farms hosts the Scottish Tartan Festival.
Plaid-clad revelers will enjoy the music of national Scottish fiddle champion Melinda Crawford and Celtic music group Smithfield Fair, as well as tales told by Scottish professional storyteller Joanne Ballard. The festival will also feature the work of blacksmiths and other craftsmen, dog contests, a kilt race and a next-day church service (do wear something under your kilt for that bit).
Deep-fried fun awaits festival-goers at the 22nd Annual Franklin Parish Catfish Festival, April 12, in downtown Winnsboro. The celebration claims to be the largest one-day festival in Louisiana; festival director Paul Price Jr. says, with agreeable weather, the festival draws a crowd of 15-20,000 festival a-fish-ianados.
In addition to tons of tasty vittles, revelers will enjoy the first North Louisiana Fiddling Championship, new to this year’s festival, as well as the music of Christian rockers 33Miles and Shades of Praise. A bonus for fish-phobic kiddies: the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile is tentatively scheduled to make an appearance.
Tartan Fest, (318) 207-1161 or www.scotlandfarms.com; Catfish Fest, (318) 435-7607 or www.franklinparishcatfishfestival.com.
Fans of the inanimate, rejoice! The Louisiana Doll Festival & Show is being held in DeRidder April 4-5, at the Beauregard Parish Fairgrounds. Festival highlights include a car show, carnival rides and games, viewing of the Lois Loftin Doll collection and a pageant (with respectably age-appropriate make-up and costume rules). Visitors will also enjoy the option to take a trolley ride through the town or join a bike tour to see the area.
The Louisiana Doll Festival & Show, (337) 397-0207 or www.ladollfest.com.
Cajun Country. The Cajun Hot Sauce Festival in New Iberia kicks off April 3 and fires on through to April 6. This festival, held at the SugArena at the Acadiana Fairgrounds, will feature a Cajun food court, People’s Choice Hot Sauce Competition, Queens pageant, carnival, kite flying competition and a Tabasco® jambalaya cook-off.
Held April 23-27 this year, the Festival International de Louisiane in downtown Lafayette is one of the biggest music gatherings in the state. Incredible acts from Louisiana and the world beyond gather to celebrate the unique music, art and dance of the Francophone community.
This year’s American performers include the Blind Boys of Alabama with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band Horns, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, VaVaVoom, the New Orleans Bingo! Show and Sonny Landreth.
The line-up of performers from outside the U.S. includes Babylon Circus (France), Alain-Francois (Quebec), Joaquin Diaz (Dominican Republic), MOOV Women’s Carnival (Martinique) and the Mamadou Diabate Ensemble (Mali).
Aside from a lengthy and prestigious list of performers, the festival will also showcase theatre and film from around the globe. If you only leave the Big Easy for one festival, make it this one.
If it be adventure ye prefer, set sail for the 51st Annual Contraband Days Pirate Festival, April 29-May 11. Held in Lake Charles, whose bayous were rumored to be a favorite hideout of Jean Lafitte the pirate, the 12-day festival features pirate costume contests, a choral festival, carnival, art shows, theater, music, rides and a host of other pirate activities and delectable galley-type eats.
Be it family-friendly? Yar. Be there fun to be had? Double yar.
Hot Sauce Festival, (888) 942-3742 or www.iberiatravel.com; Festival International, (337) 232-8086 or www.festivalinternational.com; Pirate Festival, (337) 436-5508 or www.contrabanddays.com.
Baton Rouge/Plantation Country
Louisiana’s tie to naturalist John James Audubon is celebrated April 4-6 during Audubon Country BirdFest, a festival of a different sort. Where most festivals are celebrations held at a central location, this jubilee consists mainly of birding field trips and guided walks through some of Louisiana’s most beautiful natural settings. Leisure enthusiasts will enjoy the freedom of formulating individualized itineraries based on topics or settings that interest them most.
A complete change of pace from the relaxed atmosphere of BirdFest, the Angola Prison Rodeo will be held April 19-20 this spring. Dubbed “the Wildest Show in the South,” the rodeo … well, it lives up to its name.
Visitors can wander the grounds perusing prison-made handicrafts sold by men behind chicken wire, or enjoy the voyeuristic delight of watching incarcerated men being gored by bulls. I feel a little guilty calling it entertainment, but I can guarantee it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
BirdFest, (225) 635-6502 or www.audubonbirdfest.com; Prison Rodeo, (225) 655-2133 or www.angolarodeo.com.
Greater New Orleans.
April 5-6 New Orleanians will want to hop on the Algiers Ferry to go to Old Algiers RiverFest, a celebration featuring the music of the Algiers Brass Band, Panorama Jazz Band, Kevin O’Day Band and Walter “Wolfman” Washington. The festival runs from noon to 6 p.m., both days, so make sure not to miss the boat. If you need help finding the locale, arrive early on April 5 and follow The Mohawk Hunters parade to the festival site.
For the true enthusiast, a jazz symposium will be held with panelists Ellis Marsalis, Patty Gay of the Preservation Resource Center and Tom Morgon of WWOZ. This year’s “Rollin’ on the River” symposium will focus on the roll of the Mississippi River in the dispersion of jazz music.
This year marks a milestone for one festival that is undoubtedly a favorite of New Orleans locals. The 25th Anniversary French Quarter Festival, April 11-13, (kick-off party April 10) promises to be the best free show of the spring.
There are just too many performers to name them all, but here’s a small sampling for your perusal: The Radiators, the Hot 8 Brass Band, Bonerama, Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes, Theresa Andersson, the Zydepunks, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Soul Rebels, Astral Project, Anais St. John, VaVaVoom and Kermit Ruffins & the BBQ Swingers.
The list of food vendors is impressively extensive as well. Restaurants including the Gumbo Shop, Frank’s, Antoine’s, GW Fins, the Red Maple, the Rib Room, Café Giovanni, Tujaque’s, and even the far-away Trey Yuen, will have dishes for sale. And of course, there will be tasty beverages available from Pat O’Briens and Tropical Isle.
Sweet treats await revelers at the Pontchatoula Strawberry Festival, also April 11-13. Festival activities are abundant, with parades, a pageant, rides and games, festival royalty, an auction, a strawberry-eating contest, over 50 food booths, a talent show, foot races, and live music from performers including Irma Thomas and Five Finger Discount.
One festival highlight is the 3rd Annual Strawberry Baking Contest, featuring categories for both kids and adults. Adult competition categories include Strawberry Cake, Pie, Jelly & Jams and Dessert. It would be worth the trip just to smell the entries.
There is of course one festival, known well to locals and tourists alike, that hasn’t been named here: the 39th Anniversary New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, April 25-May 4. As information on this festival abounds, I’ll leave you to seek out your own info on this one. (One note: the Roots – hailing from Philadelphia, the birthplace of liberty – will be amongst headliners May 3. Get excited!).
RiverFest, www.oldalgiersmainstreet.com;French Quarter Fest: 522-5730 or www.fqfi.org; Strawberry Festival, (985) 370-1889 or www.lastrawberryfestival.com; JazzFest: 410-4100 or www.nojazzfest.com.