LAFAYETTE — This being a Cajun festival, it wasn’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill ribbon-cutting ceremony to get the party started this weekend.
The “ribbon” was a string of boudin links. And the ceremonial cutting of the string of spicy Cajun sausages on Friday marked the official start of Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, which got into full swing on Saturday.
The annual festival, now in its 40th year, showcases Louisiana life and culture with its mix of traditional Cajun music, food and crafts, and Saturday’s celebration was no different.
Scattered across Girard Park in Lafayette, local artisans sold handmade jewelry, paintings and photography to attendees, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to attend the annual festival.
The sounds of washboards, fiddles and accordions serenaded locals and adopted Cajuns alike.
Restaurants set up booths, attracting curious stares with shouts of “Alligator on a stick!”
In one corner of the park, chefs from local eateries, like Charley G’s Holly Goeting, showed participants how to make classic Cajun cuisine.
Goeting provided out-of-towners with tips and insider knowledge on how to make such dishes as turtle soup. For example, Goeting suggested the crowd add cold or room-temperature stock to a roux for a smoother soup instead of adding the stock in hot, which cause the roux to clump.
Richard and Drenda Sims, a couple from Springfield, Illinois, said they learned not to throw out the lagniappe — the grease, fat and other ingredients left behind when sautéing the meat for the soup – and instead use those extras to add flavor to their dish.
This year marked the couple’s fourth trip to Festivals Acadiens after a friend introduced them to the event.
“We love the music, the food, the crafts, the dancing,” Richard Sims said. “We love everything about it.”
In its 40th year, Festivals Acadiens is not just celebrating Louisiana culture and history, but its own.
In addition to the food, music and crafts, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Paul & LuLu Hilliard University Art Museum is hosting an exhibition detailing the festival’s history.
Tracing its roots to 1974, Festivals Acadiens was created as a tribute to Cajun music by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana in an effort to destigmatize Cajun culture. Two years later, the music festival joined with the Lafayette Natural History Museum’s Native Crafts Festival, and a year after that, the Bayou Food Festival was added.
Since then, the festival has grown and become a tradition for many local families.
Andrea Burkenstock, volunteer coordinator for Festivals Acadiens, said she became involved with the festival 14 years ago when it was struggling to find volunteers because she didn’t want to see the event die.
“Because it’s a family tradition and it’s something near and dear to my heart — it’s my family’s culture — I wanted to help that continue,” Burkenstock said.
Now 32, Burkenstock said she’s attended the festival every year since her birth.
But it’s not just a tradition for Louisianans.
People from across the country, like the Sims, make the trip year after year because of the food, the people, the crafts and, most importantly, the dancing.
Tom Kuehnle, a St. Louis, Missouri, resident, could be found Cajun dancing like a natural to the sounds of T-Sale at the Festivals’ Scene Ma Louisiane stage.
Kuehnle said he’s attended the festival for 10 years.
“Since I’ve come the first time, I’ve tried to be here every year,” Kuehnle said. “I think I’ve missed a few but not many. … They’d have to stop me at the border to keep me from coming.”
A few years ago, Kuehnle managed to make the trip down to the bayou despite having been in a back brace just two weeks prior. That’s how much it means to him.
“It’s just the people, the atmosphere, Louisiana. It’s everything about it, and of course I like to dance. Whether I can do it well or not, I like to try.”
Festivals Acadiens will conclude Sunday, beginning with a traditional French Mass at 9 a.m. Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys close out the festival’s 40th year with a performance starting at 6 p.m.