PORT ALLEN — The stage was set Tuesday for the city of Port Allen’s revival of its once-popular Christmas-themed Bonfest, but Mother Nature had a different idea as a thunderstorm dampened the celebration.
The soggy day forced the city to cancel many of the scheduled events — like the live performances — and food vendors had few, if any, customers.
But the thunderstorms didn’t stop all the fun.
The city did manage to put on a fireworks show, followed by lighting the bonfires at the downtown levee.
“You can’t do anything about the weather,” Rose Roché, chairwoman of the One Port Allen Committee, said Tuesday night. “But we weren’t going to let it us stop doing some of this. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into this.”
Tuesday’s Bonfest — bonfires on the levee — was the first time the city hosted the event in more than 10 years.
Reviving the Christmas Bonfest was a pet project Mayor Richard Lee adopted soon after taking office in April.
In a press release announcing the event, Lee said he felt it was a great way to bring the community together after the year of controversy under the administration of former mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter.
“This is a continuing effort to build a unified community,” Lee said.
Lee’s One Port Allen Committee, made up of Port Allen residents focusing on the city’s community outreach, was able to solicit nearly $5,000 in corporate donations to finance this year’s Bonfest, with the city allocating another $5,000.
Roché said she spearheaded the planning committee of the first Bonfest back in 1997, which got rained out, too.
“We really didn’t think it would rain this time,” she said with a laugh Tuesday night. “But that’s OK. We’re already thinking about next year and looking at some different dates.”
This year’s event was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. with kiddie train rides and a toy giveaway at 3 p.m.
But city officials said only five children showed up for the free toys.
The city also had lined up The Phunky Monkeys and Rockin’ Doopsie Jr. & the Zydeco Twisters, among others, to perform on a main stage in the front of City Hall. But many of the acts couldn’t perform due to the lightning.
Tuesday’s rainfall forced much of the celebration inside City Hall, where mostly city officials grazed on food while one of the scheduled bands, Pointe Coupee Sheriff Bud Torres and the Posse, performed in the City Council chambers on the third floor.
After the rain clouds moved on, a few residents did manage to wander into downtown Port Allen to at least attend the bonfire lighting ceremony.
Adrian Genre, Port Allen’s chief administrative officer, revealed in August the city had plans to bring back Bonfest after the Atchafalaya Basin Levee gave the city the green light to extend the paved park that runs along the top of the Mississippi River levee.
The city plans to stretch the linear park to the north by 3,268 feet to build a paved walking/bike trail.
City leaders expect the addition to mean larger crowds for West Baton Rouge’s annual Fourth of July festivities, which attract about 10,000 attendees annually.
And there are hopes for future Christmas Bonfests. “It was a successful festival in the ’90s when Lynn Robertson was mayor and for a number of years it was well attended,” Genre said. “But for any number of reasons crowds dwindled and we haven’t done it in the last 10 years.”
Genre added, “A lot of local folks here have family in from out of town who used to live here, so this will give them opportunity to come and see downtown and reconnect with friends.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.