(4/29/02) I just didn't know what I was missing all these years, nor did I understand why many friends kept telling me that their favorite festival in Louisiana was Festival International de Louisiane in downtown Lafayette. Now, after having spent the last 5 days attending FI, all I can say is "wow". Three evenings and two full days of fabulous music by Louisiana and international artists with a predominately French connection. And the admission charge - none! - except you could buy a souvenir pin (or 2, as they had 2 different styles available) for $5 each to help support the festival. Add to that easy street parking, lots of great food and craft booths, Louisiana cooking demonstractions, street performers, an Artwalk on the first evening, and late night performances at Grant Street for a ridulously low price, and you have in total one terrific event.
The festival had 6 stages with music performances starting on Friday night (Wednesday had 1 stage, and Thursday had 2 stages going). The starting time of the acts were staggered, and I really appreciated that many of the international artists played on more than one day, so if you missed them on one day you could see them on another. I also was glad that the festival was broadcast live on the KRVS radio (krvs.org) and then repeated in the evenings. Since I was unfamiliar with many of these artists, I was able to get recommendations during the festival by talking to friends or hearing the radio broadcast in my car or at home. Then I made sure to sample their performances the following day. I discovered some great music this way.
Among the many Cajun and zydeco bands that played during the festival, I was able to see: Hadley J. Castille & the Cajun Sharecroppers Band, Bruce Daigrepont, D. L. Menard, Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic, Rodney Fontenot, Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin, Bois Sec Ardoin, Step Rideau & the Zydeco Outlaws, Shelton Manuel, Eric & Clay Chapman with John & Jane Vidrine, Nooney & the Zydeco Floaters, and the festival closer - Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys with an All-Star Guest list that included Sonny Landreth, Michael Doucet, D.L. Menard and Ann Savoy. Other Louisiana bands I watched performing were Irma Thomas, the Red Stick Ramblers , Bobby & the Rockers, & Steve Conn with special guest Sonny Landreth. From New York, I saw Donna the Buffalo. From France I saw Tornaod, from Nova Scotia, Grand Derangement, from South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and the Mahotella Queens, from Zimbahwe, I saw Oliver Mtukudzi (twice!), from the Congo, Tambours de Brazza. That is just a partial list of performers. Friday night I went to Wranglers in Carencro to see Geno Delafose, Saturday night I managed to see both Keith Frank at Hamiltons for a few hours before heading to Grant Street to see Sonny Landreth, and on Sunday night I went to the international jam session at Grant Street.
As I've been recovering from a knee injury recently, I found dancing on the concrete payment difficult but fortunately I had so many other great alternative music choices during the festival and in the evenings that I really didn't have anything to boo-hoo about.
Some of my personal festival highlights:
Cajun and zydeco bands:
Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic. Although Andre was listed as being a Texas band, those of us from the SF Bay Area know that Andre was born and raised, and learned to play accordion, in Richmond, CA. He put on a killer show, and I noticed a lot of musicians in the audience watching him demonstrate his accordion chops. Go Andre!
Eric and Clay Chapman with John and Jane Vidrine. Grandsons of fiddler Sady Courville, their beautiful twin fiddle numbers and a distinctive singing style made this a delightful set.
Separate sets by Shelton Manuel (fiddle), Rodney Fontenot (fiddle), Bois Sec Ardoin (accordion), D.L. Menard (guitar) showcased the legacy of these elder statesman of the Cajun and Creole traditions.
Closing Festival Jam with Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. This was one rockin set. It started with a half dozen songs by SRMP, including Sam Broussards crowd-pleasing "Bonnes Reves". The first guest of the evening was guitarist Sonny Landreth. Later Michael Doucet played several twin fiddle numbers with David Greely and sang several tunes. D.L Menard followed, and sang 2 numbers, including, The Back Door. Finally Ann Savoy joined the party to sing xxx from the recently released "Evangeline Made" CD, which she produced. This was followed by xxx sung by David Greeley, and LFlames dEnfer with Ann, Steve Riley, DL Menard and Michael Doucet taking turns on the vocals. The later songs were also included on "Evangeline Made".
Tornaod (France) French Celtic music, with fascinating texture added by their persussion and sound effects section
Grand Derangement (Nova Scotia) Last week at the Balfa camp, David Greely spoke about how early Acadian/Cajun get-togethers used to include step dancing, and here was a band from Nova Scotia that included step dancers as part of its very entertaining performance.
Mahotella Queens (South Africa) When I grow up, I would like to have half the energy and joie de vivre these wonderful women from South Africa demonstrated in their unforgetable performance.
Oliver Mtukudzi (Zimbahwe) "Tuku" plays music with gorgeous melodies and an infectious rhythm. His lyrics concern themselves with the serious social issues of the day, including one song about HIV/AIDS, yet his stage show is very upbeat.
Tambours de Brazza (Congo). Whew! The sounds of these congo drummers physicially resonate in your body as you hear them and their stage performance is incredibly erotic. You just can't believe your eyes as these hunks of musicians dance across the stage with their drums wedged between their legs.
Sonny Landreth (Louisiana at Grant Street) Ain't nothing like watching Sonny playing fab guitar and perform his original songs south of I-10 to a hometown crowd.
If you've never been to Festival International, I highly recommend you add this great festival to your travel plans.