For five days in April, Festival International de Louisiane transforms downtown Lafayette (LA) into an international music and arts Mecca, featuring hundreds of performing, visual and culinary artists from around the world.
For many, this is bigger and more exciting than Mardi Gras and is rated as one of the top Festivals in the country.
Traveling downtown on the free shuttle service from the Cajun Dome parking lot on University of Louisiana buses saves time, money, and parking fees.
The drivers are students who work for the University during the academic year. We happened to ride with Jeremy on three of the trips to or from downtown. The group of drivers served as excellent ambassadors for the Festival, the city, and the University.
Reading up on the Festival's history, we learned that "When Herman Mhire was director of the University Art Museum in 1984, he attended a showing of folk art from Senegal, West Africa.
"Mhire learned that, like Louisiana, Senegal had been a French colony and many residents of Acadiana with Senegal as a last name were descendents of people from that area brought to America during the slave trade.
"Intrigued by the narrative paintings on glass, Mhire arranged an exhibition at the art museum in early 1985. In conjunction with the exhibition, an organization in France sponsored musicians from Senegal to perform here.
"The successful experience led to the first event being held in 1987 in the July heat of South Louisiana. The date was selected to coincide with International Singing Week, a Francophone event in which 500 choral singers meet. Lafayette would become the first U.S. host of the event.
"The festival was a big success. But it was very hot and humid that weekend, so the event was wisely moved permanently to April" (www.livestrong.com/article/224147).
Billed as the "largest outdoor, free Francophone event in the U.S.," the Festival is a one-of-a-kind event that offers musical performances on six centrally located stages.
Sonny Landreth, who counts Eric Clapton and Jimmy Buffet among his fans, began the second day's events.
Following him came the Opening Ceremonies and the parade of flags. We weren't sure if the flags represented countries of this year's performers of whether they represented countries of participants from the 25 years of the Festival.
We were focused on the kids carrying the flags and missed any reference to the countries represented by the flags.
Not far from the Scene Popeye stage was a block of businesses not to be missed. A definite stop when traveling among the venues is the row of vendors from a good variety of excellent Lafayette-area restaurants.
After a quick trip to "food street," we returned in time to see Remesha Master Drummers of Burundi. As they marched on stage, you could feel the beat of their drums far into the audience.
The rhythms produced by hitting the large drum sticks together, hitting the sides of the drums made from hollowed out trees, and pounding the cow hide drum heads were magical.
The playing was marked by rapid pounding on the drums and the dancing included several leaps and shouts--the entire performance was non-stop energized movement and left us feeling exhausted.
Along the route to hear another group, there were streets and a small park filled with people--some enjoying the music from half a block away, others just enjoying the company of the group they were with.
We "dropped in" another of the open-air stages to hear The Duhks, a folkrock group from Winnipeg, Manitoba. We enjoyed their music enough to purchase one of their CDs.
Heading back to the shuttle, we passed this building with colorful, three-stories-long Festival tapestries.
The Filling Station eatery served as a neon landmark indicating the location of the pick-up point.
Our first day of Festival International de Louisiane was a success.