by Melanie Cowan
While adventuring across South Louisiana and covering these festivals, we have come across some amazing and not so amazing events that the staff would like to share. These are a compilation of our personal experiences at each festival and are our opinions alone. We rated these festivals on a 0-5 scale with five being the best and zero being the worst for four individual categories: vendors, food, crowds and music. Those scores were then added up for a total overall experience score out of 20 possible points. For each festival scoring a 10 or lower, they were given a “fail” label, if the festival scored a total of 11-20, they were given a “fave” label.
Thibodauxville // Thibodaux, LA
In the heartland of “Bayou Country” there lies the city of Thibodaux. The city is small perhaps, but nothing short of cultural and rooted in history. In the center of Thibodaux is downtown, the hub of sorts for larger events. This is where Thibodauxville really shines. The festival kicks off with the Big Boy’s Cook-off where locals can put their best and cherished recipes to the test. Visitors can pay just $5 for all you can enjoy tastes of the contestants’ dishes. They are judged and a winner is chosen at the end of the night. The following day is where the real fun begins. Multiple local bands perform throughout the day and food vendors line the closed-off streets to showcase their southern dishes as well as local businesses who sell their crafts under the shade of a tent for visitors to buy something truly special that they cannot get anywhere else. This year’s Thibodauxville festival had a record breaking weekend with their visitors nearly doubling from 2015. Although the crowds were rather large, the lines leading to food vendors were not as long as was expected. The lines were eliminated pretty quickly and it ran very efficient and smooth. The duck races topped the charts with over 500 entries separated by age group. Over 500 rubber ducks floated along the bayou which was truly a site to see. I will surely be returning to this festival next year, where they plan to make this event an all weekend long affair due to the large turn out this year. Thibodauxville truly captured the culture of the bayou region as well as brought visitors and locals together to celebrate everything and anything at all, just like we Louisianaians are known to do.
Voice of the Wetlands Festival // Houma, LA
This festival is often easily overlooked, but the Voice of the Wetlands festival is a fun and exciting event that brings to light a really big issue directly effecting south Louisiana. That issue is the disappearing of the state’s wetland ecosystems due to coastal erosion. The festival’s purpose is to educate residents on how they themselves can take small steps to saving Louisiana’s wetlands. It also helps that all of the festival’s proceeds go to the Voice of the Wetlands organization—a non-profit dedicated to the education and fund-raising to benefit the preservation of the wetlands. Although it was a great weekend festival, full of great cultural influence and impressive eats, some visitors criticized the location of the festival and how dark the area was once the sun set. There were not that many street lights or extra lighting whatsoever causing the crowds to get sparse as the night went on. However, the “vowenteers” were very upbeat and made the entire festival run amazingly smooth. From running the silent auction to serving food to directing parking, they were an essential part of why this festival is able to keep running year after year. The highlight of the VOW festival was truly the music acts. They booked over five acts per day which really kept everyone on their feet dancing. This festival is bursting with culture and purpose and, although it’s new location was less than perfect, it truly was an enjoyable experience for all ages and this festival is a true testament to the phrase “it takes a village…” because when a community comes together for a worthy cause, they can accomplish amazing things.
Fried Chicken Festival // New Orleans, LA
The first annual Fried Chicken Festival held in the center of New Orleans, was one of the many events that emerged this year held in Lafayette Square. The parking was not as expensive as the French Quarter which was a personal victory for me personally. Spending over $30 to park in New Orleans on any given day makes my heart fall to my feet. On this particular day, however, I only paid $5 to park all afternoon and a short 5-minute walk to Lafayette Square. The music that was playing at this festival was very animated and got everyone on their feet. The music was heavily jazz influenced which is to be expected in this city and fit this festival to a T. There were over 50 vendors all with different methods and dishes with one common denominator—fried chicken, a holy grail in the south region of the United States. White meat, dark meat, tenders, sandwiches, tacos, you name it were at this popular event. The crowds were tremendous. I visited later in the day hoping the crowds would die down but that was extremely far from the truth. The lines to get fried chicken were so long that I did not even get to eat fried chicken at this festival. Not to mention, that booths that had no line were because they ran out of chicken, which was the case for many vendors. To go along with that, the beverage tent was a one-stop-shop of sorts and was the only place to get any kind of beverage on a hot Louisiana day. Alcoholic and soft drinks as well as water were served under the same tent, in the same line. This caused a long line to wait for a beverage as well. However, once you get up there, the alcoholic drinks were decently priced and pretty tasty. They included a souvenir cup which made the day worth it for me. It was really difficult to rate this festival because while it was crowded, it had an amazing turnout and brought some more visitors to the city which is always the ultimate goal. I kept in mind that this is the first year they have had this festival so kinks are to be expected. I am hoping that their planning committee takes into consideration all of the constructive criticism given and makes next year bigger and better than ever!
Andouille Festival // Laplace, LA
This festival pays testament to a popular Louisiana food that livens up any jambalaya or gumbo pot. Andouille, most commonly used in sausage is a Louisiana staple so it is only appropriate that Laplace would have a festival to celebrate the culture that comes with this food. With over 30 food vendors, it was hard to choose just what to get. These talented chefs cooked Andouille like I have never seen before. It was added to practically everything which I appreciated. Foods like Andouille topped pizza, crawfish and Andouille egg rolls, Andouille hush puppies, shrimp and Andouille nachos and much much more made for a really interesting food experience for all visitors. It was very fair-like on one side of the festival with rides and fair food for the not-so-adventurous eaters which were really popular among the kids. Most of the bands were heavily Zydeco influenced which was truly an experience to behold. Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers brought the house down on Friday night with heavily cultural music that just embodies south Louisiana as a whole. Bag of Donuts, a very popular cover band also played Friday night and, as always, put on a great show that got everyone dancing. The crowds were very large and the lines were long at some vendors but the venue where this festival was held was a great size for the turnout and it really worked out in their favor. This was a really culture and food heavy festival which really spoke to the idea of food bringing people together and that is what I felt was the case at Andouille Festival.
Beignet Festival // New Orleans, LA
The Beignet Festival, much like it’s Fried Chicken Festival counterpart, was in it’s first year and experienced many of the less than desirable kinks. It was held in Lafayette Square and saw a huge crowd during this one-day festival. The beignets were plenty and creative. They had a mixture of sweet and savory beignets such as Oreo filled, po’boy, fruit filled, and much more. These local vendors did things with beignets that I have never seen before. However, the lines were extremely long once more and almost did not seem worth it to wait for over 45 minutes for a beignet. The band, however, was really great and it was a gorgeous day outside which made it all worth it for me personally. Parking was not an issue due to the location but the crowds were just the same. I felt the location was great but not accommodating for the crowd size the festival brought in. However, I do take into consideration that this festival is still new and they still have to go through trial and error to make it better. If their goal was to bring people into the city, as I have no doubt, they truly accomplished their goal.
Rougarou Festival // Houma, LA
The Rougarou festival is unlike any I’ve been to covering this issue. This festival centers around south Louisiana folklore of all kinds but specifically the Rougarou or swamp monster. The story goes back decades and is thought to be a story that parents told their children when they were misbehaving. Adults with their own kids now pass on the story to let the culture live on. This festival is held around Halloween which is all the more appropriate for the spooky vibe this festival gives. They had story times every hour to tell the story to children who do not yet know the legend. Seeing their eyes light up with wonder at the thought of a swamp monster was a true testament to how important the preservation of the bayou region culture is to this area. The food was great with lots of options. I mustered the courage to eat alligator for the first time and it was surprisingly good. (It tasted like chicken—how typical.) Not five minutes after my first alligator eating experience, I had the chance to pet a live alligator—how morbid and only in Louisiana. The vendors were extremely diverse selling things from sugar art, paintings, children’s books about a voodoo doll, local honey and much more. There was even a collectable action-figure company from Illinois who flew here to sell their interpretation of the Rougarou. The Rougarou queen was a really neat site to see. It truly broke the barrier from festival royalty that I am used to. She was seen with twigs in her teased hair and dark makeup with a green contour of her face which really set the stage for the feel of the festival. Although the venue for the festival was rather small, the crowds were not huge so lines were not an issue. To top off the charm of this festival, all of the proceeds from the festival benefit the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center— “a non-profit organization that is revolutionizing how we think, teach and learn about Louisiana’s disappearing coast.” This festival truly captured south Louisiana to me and I will be returning in the future.
Sugar Cane Festival // New Iberia, LA
The Sugar Cane Festival was the first that I attended this year on the mission to find the diamonds in the rough in the realm of off the beaten path festivals in south Louisiana. I had really high hopes for this festival because sugar cane is such an essential crop of this region and it deserves to be celebrated. I attended on Sunday so I was expecting a lot of things to be going on. To start off, the fair (rides, fair food, etc.) was in a totally different side of town from the rest of the festival which struck me as kind of odd. I made my way to where the parade was being held in downtown and I was underwhelmed by the amount of food vendors present. Considering the parade was the “grand finale” of sorts, I figured there would be a lot of vendors selling some final things before the festival ended. The parade was really cute with cane tractors pulling each float and many locals crowded the streets to see the parade. Something quite humorous to me were the decorations lining the streets. There were these wreaths with sugar cubes on them. Yes, that’s right, sugar cubes. It was interesting to say the least. I left New Iberia with an empty belly and a lot of disappointed. I later found out all of the events happened on Friday and Saturday and at different locations. Maybe I am just accustomed to having all festival events in one central location. I also feel as though if a festival is going to be labeled a three-day event, there should be a lot more going on on the last day. I think I will give it another chance and go on Friday or Saturday but this festival was a real fail for me this year.