LAFAYETTE — Cajun and zydeco music and food are just a small portion of what's on tap this weekend at the annual Festivals Acadiens et Créoles.

The event returns to Lafayette on Friday and runs through Sunday, with musical performances across multiple stages. Visitors can also enjoy the Bayou Food Festival, the Louisiana Craft Fair and cooking demonstrations. 

Chef Pat Mould has been part of the festival for decades, as a producer, marketing and development director and board member. The longtime festival fixture took some time out to discuss the changes the free festival has gone though in recent years, why the festival remains free and what will be new at this year’s festival. 

What is the biggest change you have seen with the festival in recent years?

I would say in the last three to five years the amount of growth we have experienced, with the amount of amount of venues and the people attending the festival has been astronomical. When we first took over, we had visions of additional venues, and we have just kept adding and adding and adding. Now what we have is five stages of music, a wonderful food festival, an incredible arts and crafts festival, two children areas, chef demonstrations and a sports bar.

In the past decade many festivals have seen attendance numbers decline, yet this festival has continued to grow every year. Why is that?

I think it is because we are giving them more significant cultural programming. Dr. Barry Ancelet, who started and founded this festival, likes to say that "he treats the stage like a classroom." You know he might be entertaining you but he is also hoping that he is teaching you something during the process. What you have to realize about Festivals Acadiens et Créoles is this is how we live, how we eat, how we talk. It’s about our art; it is about our music and all the cultural aspects of how we live in South Louisiana. Barry calls it "infotainment." We have made sure to make that part of the process.

Festivals Acadiens et Créoles provides so many different things to visitors, more so than most festivals in the region and state. Yet the festival remains free. Why?

People are always shocked by that, especially those from outside of the state. I can’t tell you how many emails I get every year with people writing that they can’t see any ticket information on the website and that they want to know where to get tickets. So I always send them back an email, in capital letters I write, “IT’S FREE,” and they kind of freak out. They then ask how can we do this festival for free, and the answer is pretty simple. We are able to do this for free because we have a great group of sponsors year after year.

The festival is not only about this coming weekend’s slate of cultural activities, it is also about philanthropy. Can you elaborate on what the board has been able to do recently in that regard?

We have five arms of philanthropy with the festival. We have music, food, art, French language and the beautification of Girard Park. This year, we sent a chef to the Culinary Apprenticeship Program at the Cannes Film Festival. We have sent people to St. Anne to learn how to speak French. We have given a young blacksmith a scholarship, and we worked with the Boy Scouts to plant 50 fruit trees in Girard Park. That way next year you can walk a few steps off the walking track and pick yourself a Louisiana satsuma. Our mindset has always been to have a philanthropic component to the festival.

What are some of the new things that visitors can expect from this year’s festival?

We have some new stage crowns that we are hanging this year. We don’t make any money off them but they are cool, and we think the public is going to love them. The main stage is going to have a live oak theme to it, the Heritage stage is going to have an accordion theme to it, and the dance hall is going to have a dancing couple as the crown.

For someone who has never been to Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, why should they come and experience the festival this weekend?

This is your opportunity to come for one weekend out of the year and completely immerse yourself into the Cajun and Creole culture. Whether you are from Pascagoula, Mississippi or Peoria, Illinois, this is your chance to come and immerse yourself in our culture.


5 BANDS YOU CAN'T MISS AT FESTIVALS ACADIENS ET CRÉOLES 

Keith Frank and the Soileau Zydeco Band — 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Scène Mon Héritage stage. Nicknamed "The Zydeco Boss," Keith Frank and his band are one of the most entertaining zydeco bands around. His 2012 double album, "Follow the Leader," is full of hip-hop and gospel-tinged songs. To solidify his status as one of the kings, he released "Haterz" as a single in 2013 with a verse from Lil' Boosie. 

Lost Bayou Ramblers — Noon to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Scène Mon Héritage stage. Is there such a thing as Cajun punk? If there were, this band would occupy the genre all by itself. Relentlessly touring (by themselves or with Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes or Spider Stacy of The Pogues), the Lost Bayou Ramblers are as much barroom rock 'n' roll as they are Cajun music. 

Horace Trahan & the Ossun Express — 5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Scène Mon Héritage stage. Known for his hit "That Butt Thing," Horace Trahan mixes zydeco and Cajun music that's perfect for dancing and partying. My personal favorite is "Getcha Some" from his 2012 album "All the Way." 

Walter Mouton and the Scott Playboys — 2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Saturday at the Salle de Danse stage. Cultural icons in the world of Cajun music, yet lesser known outside Louisiana, this band is known to influence a Cajun musician or two. The band's new album collects 17 songs from performances at Festival Acadiens et Créoles from 1992 to 2014. 

Roddie Romero & The Hub City All-Stars with special guests Lil' Buck Sinegal and Sonny Landreth — 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at the Scène Ma Louisiane stage. Roddie Romero is already a veritable force in the Cajun music scene. But when you partner him and his band up with swamp pop/bluesman Lil' Buck Sinegal and steel guitarist Sonny Landreth? The result ought to be nothing less than electric to kick off the festival on Friday night. 

OK, HERE ARE 5 MORE BECAUSE I'M NICE: Feufollet at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Scène Ma Louisiane stage; Bonsoir, Catin at 3:45 p.m. Saturday at the Scène Mon Héritage stage; Cedryl Ballou & the Zydeco Trendsetters at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Anniversary stage; The Revelers at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Salle de Danse stage; and Courtbouillon at 2:15 p.m. Sunday at the Scène Mon Héritage stage. 


THE FOOD AT FESTIVAL ACADIENS ET CRÉOLES

Part of the glory of visiting Festivals Acadiens et Créoles is making room for all that good food. 

The Bayou Food Festival is held in conjunction with festival celebrations this weekend on the Girard Park grounds. Seafood, meat pies and boudin are just some of the items on the menu. Here's what I'm looking forward to eating and checking out. 

Charlie T's Specialty Meats was my first stop last year. Why? Boudin and cracklins. A bag of cracklins comes at $5, and boudin balls are $2. This is quite possibly the best investment for a festivalgoer. 

If you want some seafood, or midafternoon gluttony, you can't go wrong with a spinach and artichoke bread bowl from Pouparts. The bakery and bistro will also have shrimp étouffée in a puff pastry and crawfish pistollettes. 

On the edge of Freetown, Taco Sisters is a little shack that serves up amazing tacos, burritos, and salads. I make it a point to visit them when I go to Lafayette. Good thing the restaurant will be at this festival, serving its jerk pork tacos, dirty dip nachos, brisket burritos, and shrimp tacos. I'll have one of each. 

Carpe Diem!, a gelato and espresso bar located in downtown Lafayette, will be on hand serving up four flavors of gelato and New Orleans-style iced coffee. It'll be a perfectly sweet ending to all the salty goodness you've had. 

On Saturday and Sunday, the festival will also host cooking demonstrations at the Culture Sur La Table tent. Chef Colt Patin gets things started at 11:45 a.m. Saturday with his Cajun vs. Creole demo. Patin is followed by chef Michael Ciuffetti at 12:45 p.m., chef Bennett Simmons at 1:45 p.m., Bayou Teche Brewing at 2:45 p.m., and Sweet Crude rum pairings at 3:45 p.m. On Sunday, Patin returns at noon to cook up some alligator sauce piquante. Sous chef Mica Salter will prepare grits and grillades at 1 p.m. Sunday, followed by chef Jude Huval at 2:15 p.m., and Paul Ayo of E's Kitchen at 3:45 p.m. 

Matthew Sigur contributed to this report.