This Labor Day: We’re Going Out to Sea

Tell me you’re from Louisiana without telling me you’re from Louisiana.

Ever play this game?

Anything that gets a bit too popular gets a quick eyeroll from me (let’s call it the meme-ification of culture). 

Until, that is, I come up with a good one myself.

In a seminar class last spring, I was trying to put my finger on the difficulty we Louisianians have in responding effectively to the real-and-present dangers of climate change. It’s a big, super-complex problem, for one. The whole “we lose a football field every hour” only seems to matter if it were a very specific football field, like the one in the middle of the Superdome or Tiger Stadium. Places like Isle de Jean Charles present another language, another world, another story. 

Our economics and culture and identity are all tied together—one Gordian-knot, braided-kingcake, flour-meets-oil unit.

That’s when it hit me.

How to explain Louisiana, I rhetorically asked the class?

Every Labor Day weekend Morgan City throws the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival.

True story. This year will mark year 87 of the oil-gushing, shrimp-swimming, down-the-bayou gathering—one, per its website, that won Festival of the Year in 2006, 2007, 2014, and 2015. Division III Festival of the Year, mind you, but a champion is a champion.

And Louisiana, undoubtedly, is Louisiana. Come Sunday, the southern tip of our state will be throwing Decadence Festival parades, LSU-Florida State pre-game concerts, and the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. Plan your leather chaps, purple chest paint, and white shrimp boots ensemble accordingly.

All crazed, all kumbaya, all holding hands. Everyone gets their day in these parts.

Jen and I made pilgrimage to Morgan City pre-COVID, and we found a small-town festival. There were flatbed floats and funnel cakes and corn dogs. No shrimp berlin’. No oil rig hats. No drum-o-beer.

For all the normal carny rides and fare, there was something that stood out at the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival: amazing festival merchandise. The logo. The koozie. That button!

The poster this year is pretty enough, but trace that oil spill back to its uncapped line through the posters down the years. The cruel reality of the 1984 edition can only be outdone by the surrealistic expression of 2012, my personal favorite. (Was the BP spill even shunted when that was being painted?!) Pink gold, I’d call it.

I’m not sure if we’ll make it down festival road—through Des Allemands (the Catfish Capital of the Universe) and Raceland (home of La Fete des Vieux Temps and, likely, a few oldtimers) and Houma (with its Krewe Ga Rou for its Rougarou Festival). We’d have to leave the big city by 7:00 a.m. to make the outdoor Blessing of the Boats Mass.

But I’d encourage it, if only to say you’ve touched boots to an oil derrick pulling out casts of shrimp.

If only to say, you’re from this state. 

We’re going out to sea, in every sense of the term. And throwing a party for it.

Frustrating? Fun? Like a good small engine, we take a mixture in our tank.

Just make sure to get me a pin and one of those 2012 posters.


PBS covered the fest first. Get your preview.

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