by Melanie Cowan
There is a little something special in common with all the festivals in Louisiana which has become a subculture within itself. Festival pageantry is truly something to behold because it puts a face to the festival itself. The contestants all have ties to the festival or the region in some way to make them want to compete to represent the place that they hold so dear. The competition is fierce, but at the end of it all, one woman stands tall among the rest.
In Louisiana alone, 93 of the 123 fairs and festivals under the Louisiana Association of Fairs and Festivals have queens. Although taking the crown seems like a glamorous job, it comes with a lot of responsibility. It is very common for festival queens to travel around the state all year to promote their festival. That means attending other local festivals and and learn about the region. Although most queens are from the area they represent, it is not necessary.
This is the case for Caroline Marcello, a senior at Nicholls State University from Thibodaux and this year’s Sugar Cane Festival Queen 75. This may seem confusing to some, being that Marcello is from Thibodaux but she represents New Iberia at their Sugar Cane Festival but she says it is not about the city itself, but the sugar cane farmers she represents.
“In July of this year after an interview process I was asked to serve as Miss Lafourche and represent the sugar cane farmers of the parish at the 75th annual Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival held in New Iberia every September,” Marcello said, “I was completely thrilled when I found out I was going to be representing our great parish and our hard working farmers as well as carrying on a special tradition in my family.”
According to Marcello, it was especially important for her to take home the crown because her grandmother served as Queen Sugar 5 many years ago. She wanted to carry on the tradition because pageantry runs in her blood.
As Queen Sugar, Marcello has a duty to travel to other festivals and experience what that specific city has to offer.
“As a festival queen I get the opportunity to travel across the state of Louisiana and experience the variety of festivals. In my short time of being queen I have already learned so much about the diversity of our state. I’ve tasted gumbo in Bridge city for the Gumbo Festival, pet a cow in Abbeville at the Cattle Festival, and learned how to build a bonfire on the levee in Gramercy at the Festival of the Bonfires. It’s pretty safe to say I wouldn’t have experienced any of these things if I wouldn’t be a festival queen,” Marcello said.
The pageant process is a stressful one, some girls have to go through the process year after year to finally get the title. This is the case for Bridge City native, Lyndsey Davis, who currently reigns as Queen Gumbo. Davis went competed in the Miss Gumbo pageant four times before finally winning the title this past September.
“I don’t really do pageants, this was the only title I really wanted to compete for because the Gumbo Festival holds such a special place in my heart,” Davis said.
Davis’ grandmother founded the Gumbo Festival in 1973 so the festival is a family affair for her. Her grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins have all won the crown and this year it is her turn. According to Davis, her reign thus far has been one to remember.
“I get to meet so many girls all throughout the state of Louisiana. The duties a queen must uphold is to simply promote her festival with a positive attitude.”
Davis says she will most likely not compete for another pageant in the near future because for her, it just would not be the same.
“I love what I love and I just stick to it,” Davis said.
Although the year is a year full of traveling and memories, it has to come to an end. Each year a festival crowns a new queen, and the queen from the previous year crowns a new successor who will follow in her footsteps. This is what Sydney Poche had to do this year at the Festival of the Bonfires. Her reign ended in November 2016, where she had to crown the new queen. According to Poche, it is just as exciting as her year as queen.
“I’m connected to the festival because my parents are on the festival committee. I’ve been building bonfires with my family since I was a baby,” Poche said.
She said her reign was a dream come true, but it was time to pass the torch for the next girl.
“I’m always going to be there to give advice my successor needs and I will always be Miss Festival of the Bonfires to be there when the festival needs me.”
No matter the festival, one thing remains the same, nothing beats the passion and dedication these queens bring to their festivals. Their legacy will live on like the queens before them and will forever be apart of festival culture and history.