This time, Festival Acadiens et Creoles is going with Plan A.
Festival organizers decided this week they would plan for a live festival, typically on the second weekend of October in Girard Park, adjacent to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where it was first held in 1976. Last year’s event went virtual because of the pandemic.
Festival founder Barry Ancelet said organizers will monitor the health risks carefully in case things change: For example, if vaccinations slow or if there’s an unexpected rise in COVID-19 cases. But for now, it looks like a live event.
“For now, given the movement on the vaccination front and other issues, we feel like it will be OK,” Ancelet said. “The last thing we want to do is be unsafe.”
Consumer spending continued to climb in February in Lafayette Parish as the total retail sales recorded was the highest ever for that month.
Pat Mould, the festival’s vice president for programming and development, said the line-up will be close to last year’s line-up — leading Cajun and Zydeco musicians who have suffered financially during the pandemic because of the loss of live engagements. The festival is contacting the musicians and offering contracts this week.
“The goal is to go live if we can. We want to be in the park. We want musicians on stages, crafts people selling their goods, food vendors serving food,” he said.
“Restaurants are pretty stable,” Ancelet said. “Some may have gone out of business. One of the things we are keen to do this year is to give a chance to participate to restaurants and musicians, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. We want to give them a bump.
“Restaurants that stayed afloat during the pandemic or did well were those who figured out how to do takeout and curb service. When people have eaten outside of their homes, they have eaten outside, mostly. That’s what you do.”
Ancelet said the festival will also assume the theme it had intended for last year, when, instead of designating a Cajun or Creole music for honors on the festival poster, as was usually done, the festival opted instead to celebrate the link between musicians and local cuisine. The festival includes booths representing many leading Acadiana restaurants. Celebrations of music, food and art are always part of the event.
Mould said livestreaming the event, as was done during the 2020 virtual festival, will continue to be part of presenting the festival. He said the virtual festival was very popular, and digital consultants were shocked by how well the community’s demonstrated its connection to the virtual event by following it online.
“The virtual event last year was a huge success for Festival Acadiens,” Mould said. “It was a massive success. We need to point cameras at stages. We are prepared and ready for both plans right now: a live event and the working possibility of streaming event. Plan A and Plan B.”
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The choice the festival faced this year was similar to last year’s: Plan A was to host a live event, Plan B was for a virtual event. But COVID-19 vaccines were not available and there were concerns that it might be difficult to socially distance at a live event.
In 2020, Festivals Acadiens et Creoles studied the lead shown by Festival International, the springtime, downtown music event. The spring festival went virtual in the wake of the pandemic; it will be a virtual event his year, too.
Ancelet said the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Oct. 8-17, will be live this year. So will the French Quarter Festival, Sept. 30-Oct. 3. Jazz Fest, which was moved to the fall this year, will conflict with Festival Acadiens et Creole on one weekend, but Ancelet said that shouldn’t prove to be a problem for attendance. Typically, Jazz Fest lines up against Festival International in Lafayette, but the events are different enough that it doesn’t seem to affect attendance.