Though Festival International de Louisiane is still over two months away, the spirit of Festival was alive at the Jefferson Street Pub on Saturday for the unveiling of the 2020 music lineup, event poster and collectible pin.

The 34th annual music and arts festival will feature more than 60 artists and groups from more than 23 countries, Festival International executive director Scott Feehan said. Organizers have some creative surprises for Festival fans, including old favorites and up-and-comers as well as new street animations, such as street walkers and other attractions, he said.

Included in the lineup are electro hip-hop band Radio Radio from Nova Scotia; Delgres, a blues group that celebrated one of its earliest outings at Festival four years ago; and Cimafunk, an Afrocuban funk artist from Paris.

Festival International programming director Lisa Stafford begins booking for bands in June and July, but because of changing visa requirements for international artists, it takes several months to nail down the participating groups and even longer to settle the schedule, Feehan said. The full Festival International schedule will be released in coming weeks.

Feehan has attended Festival International since 1992 and said the opportunity to discover new music and cultures from around the world is what makes it unlike any other local event.

“What drew me into Festival was I remember looking at the guide and not knowing any of the groups, but every stage I went to, I was blown away by the music. Then I would walk the streets, and out of nowhere this 20-foot crazy street walker would appear … it transforms downtown into this international fantasy event,” he said.

The vibrancy and mystique of the Festival International environment are what 2020 visual artist Tommy Hughes tried to capture in his poster design for the event. Hughes put more than 100 hours of work into transforming his original 5-by-7-foot art piece into a dazzling graphic image of the movement, music and people seen at Festival International.

He created the piece by combining graffiti ink, alcohol inks and paint markers, layering the work repeatedly to get a high level of detail and vibrant color from each form. Hughes’ signature vivid characters jump out in the work, including an accordion player, performer and streetwalkers inspired by images of real people from the festival. The rest stemmed from Hughes’ imagination. 

The artist said the unveiling event was an “oh my goodness” experience.

“This is absolutely the biggest dream come true for me besides the birth of my son,” Hughes said.

Hughes, a project manager at Architects Beazley Moliere, said he was always called to art but felt like architecture was the only way to earn a living and make his passion work. About three years ago, he returned to creating, establishing his mixed media method and character style.

Last year was his first attempt at the coveted visual artist position, but it didn’t pan out.

“I thought I’d give it another shot this year, and low and behold, my style has grown through that whole year. It just needed a little push, and there you have it,” Hughes said.

Landing the Festival International gig was astonishing, he said, and he’s hoping it’ll help springboard his independent art career.

The Saturday launch event was a new outing for Festival International. Feehan said they’re constantly looking for ways to push the event forward and create a bigger and better experience for attendees and friends of the festival. 

In recent years, that push has included extending the festival beyond Francophone groups to include more diverse music offerings, including Latin groups. Last year, Festival International partnered with Asociación Cultural Latino-Acadiana to assist with the 2019 Latin Music Festival, and the group will work together again in April to add diverse cultural flair to Festival.

“We’re trying to represent more than just French. We’re still paying homage to our French, still predominately a Francophone festival, but we want to work more with the other international cultures in this area,” the executive director said.

Also new this year is a waste-reduction effort called the Greening Festival Project. The Festival International team partnered with the 24 Hour Citizen Project to fund the cost difference for food vendors to switch from Styrofoam products to biodegradable serving containers. The funding has been offered to all food vendors and participating businesses will be highlighted with a special green festival logo, Feehan said.

“There are a lot of challenges in what we do because of the size of the event, but we’re taking baby steps to make a difference and make a better impact,” he said.

To see the full list of musical performers, visit festivalinternational.org.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com