Not to be overly enthusiastic with the "only in Louisiana" mentality, but good grief! The second weekend in October offers two festivals with musical choices that I don't think you could find anywhere else in the country. The ever-popular Cajun music Festival Acadiens will take place in Lafayette and the relatively new Voice of the Wetlands will fill the air with great sounds in Houma. Both events feature amazing music -- and both are free.
A festival that could not be more timely and deserving of our support is the 3rd annual Voice of the Wetlands Festival on the grounds of Southdown Plantation in Houma.
Musician Tab Benoit cut his teeth playing his guitar at Tabby's Blues Club in Baton Rouge and has gone on to a productive blues and rock/roots career playing gigs all over the country. His love of the wetlands region near his hometown of Houma inspired him to help start this festival to create national awareness for the wetlands crisis and turn community initiatives into actions. Benoit knows the way to draw attendance is by offering the lure of great music. As he says "We'll all get together and have some fun, but it's important that we get something done in the process."
Although raising money to put on this free festival has been difficult this year, there was no doubt that the festival needed to be held. Organizers know that wetlands issues haven't been resolved, so the mission of the festival has grown stronger. Estuary exhibits and informative wetlands experts will be at the festival to share firsthand accounts of the actions and issues the state faces in protecting and restoring the coast of Louisiana. And in typical Louisiana style, you can't serve up the culture of the state without serving up music.
The festival kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13 with stump speeches by local politicians and wetland experts, who will detail actions that are taking place and what involvement will be necessary to realize results. Festivities continue with the X-Treme Guitar Showdown featuring Tab Benoit with invited special guests.
The festival swings into full gear Saturday and Sunday, with local, regional and national acts including performances by Louisiana LeRoux, Cyril Neville and Tribe 13, The Chubby Carrier Band, The Treater Band, The Waylon Thibodeaux Band, Southern Cross, The Pershing Wells Louisiana Songwriting Revue, The Dream Junkies and The Hurricane Levee Band. But it's the Sunday evening festival finale with the Voice of Wetlands All-Stars that will be exhilarating. The All-Stars feature Dr. John, Tab Benoit, Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, George Porter Jr., Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Jumpin' Johnny Sansone and Waylon Thibodeaux. Their call for the weekend: "Let's unite our voices."
The fabulous Festival Acadiens is back for two days of continuous, exemplary Cajun music in the spacious, shaded Girard Park in Lafayette. The exciting shift from its traditional September date to Oct. 13-15 means that for the first time in years, attendance shouldn't include sweltering heat. Like a wagon wheel, Lafayette occupies the center spot as the roads fan out to a dozen Cajun villages in a 40-mile radius, leaving the city with its nickname "the Hub City." Not just music, but dozens of folklife demonstrations, a smaller stage with music workshops, jam sessions and a supply of good local food complete the festival.
Festivities kick off Friday evening with a special edition of the weekly Downtown Alive street dance. A luncheon concert offers a performance by Cajun du Nord, a Scandinavian Cajun band at the Natural History Museum. What a hoot. Starting at 5:30 p.m., T-Sale takes to the permanent downtown stage, followed by Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha-Chas.
The main area is the Festival de Musique Acadienne, where the center stage presents music from 11 a.m. till dusk. Saturday's lineup includes the likes of Paul Daigle and Cajun Gold, Pineleaf Boys, Jason Frey and Lagniappe, and Wayne Toups. And they do it all again on Sunday, with performances by Jesse Lege and the Southern Ramblers, Kevin Naquin and the Ossun Playboys, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys and Beausoleil Review.
Then there's more music at the Heritage Stage with performances on Saturday by Ray Abshire, Cory "Lil Pop" Ledet, Nathan Williams, Geno Delafose and Les Traiteurs. On Sunday, bands include Roddie Romero, Keith Frank, The Bluerunners and Balfa Toujours. The Louisiana Folk Roots tents will feature music workshops and jam sessions.
Circling the music area, a dozen or so food booths create the Bayou Food Festival. Familiar area restaurants such as the Original Don's Seafood, Charlie T's, Lagneaux's, T-Coon's and others, offer an expansive menu including boudin, crawfish fettuccine, crabcakes, crawfish enchiladas, smoked shrimp and crabmeat over penne pasta, catfish po-boys, bread pudding and chocolate eclairs. What's nice about the food choices is that you can find the traditional dishes you want to find at such an event -- with an added dash of gourmet thrown in. Plenty of beer trucks and bottled water vendors provide libations.
You'll also find the Louisiana Crafts Fair, which has traditional and contemporary artisans demonstrating and selling fine crafts.