Lafayette was settled in the late 1700s by French Catholics who were exiled from Canada. In search of freedom, the Acadians—or Cajuns as they became known—not only created a new life for themselves, they created one of the most distinctive and authentic cultures in the United States. Today, Louisiana’s Cajun culture still revolves around faith, food, music and French heritage, and one of the best ways to immerse yourself is at Festival International de Louisiane, the country’s biggest international music and arts festival. Every April, artists from more than 20 French-speaking countries as well as 300,000 festival goers flock to Parc International in Downtown Lafayette for a five-day homage.
At Wednesday’s opening ceremony, local French students fly the flags of each participating country, commencing five days of workshops, exhibits, fanfare and performances by nearly 75 artists.
Concerts range from traditional jazz, blues and zydeco to exotic and avant-garde. This year, Moonlight Benjamin is coming from Haiti with a new and explosive style known as voodoo trance. Doctor Nativo, one of Central America’s most exciting new talents, combines reggae, cumbia, hip hop, and Mayan traditional music. Ethiopian music legend Girma Bèyènè will join the stage with acclaimed French group Akalé Wubé.
“We attend the festival every year,” says Jenny Gautreaux, a local resident whose children are enrolled in their school’s French language immersion program. “We love that our kids get exposed to so many colorful costumes, interesting musical instruments and amazing cultures from around the world. And it’s right here in our backyard.”
Around the main stages, onsite food vendors help festival-goers refuel. Two dozen of the area’s best restaurants provide visitors the perfect opportunity to taste their way through Lafayette’s famous cuisine with specialties like sweet potato beignets, alligator balls, crab cakes, crawfish pistolettes, shrimp and grits, duck quesadillas, boudin, po’boys, praline chicken and waffles, bread pudding, daiquiris and snowballs.
In addition to the main festival area at Parc International, the Scène des Jeunes children’s area is set up nearby at the Cathedral-Carmel School (848 St. John St.) From 11 am to 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday, children can enjoy special music, face painting, crafts and activities especially for them.
Be sure to pick up a festival poster and pin, a collectible item for locals and festival attendees year after year. This year’s design was created by Louisiana comic book artist Kody Chamberlain. Lawn chairs and blankets also come in handy along with comfortable walking shoes.