From the lookout atop the Ferris wheel at the 55th annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, Parc Hardy resembled a colorful wave spreading over the grassy field on Saturday.
Over a three-day period, more than 35,000 people from around the world were expected at this year’s event. Festivalgoers enjoyed Cajun two-stepping to music like D.L. Menard’s acclaimed guitar strumming and devouring the delectable mudbugs that have placed the small city on the international radar.
“The tradition (of having the festival) means a lot to so many, especially the elderly who were here when it began in 1960,” said Mark Bernard, the festival’s president. “For us, it’s not about getting credit for what we do. It’s about giving back to our community because it’s the culture of our city.”
What began as a spin-off from the 1959 Breaux Bridge Centennial Celebration has now turned into an event that has been featured in publications such as Southern Living, National Geographic and The New York Times.
Tony Bernard, the artist who has designed the official festival poster since 2010, said his inspiration behind the simplified crown-wearing crawfish was the festival’s queen.
“The queen is a big thing at most festivals, so I did this (painting) and called it ‘Crawfish Is Royalty,’ ” he continued.
Bernard, who worked under the famous Blue Dog painter George Rodrigue for 20 years, has successfully paved his own way through the painted pelican series “King George,” which was named after the late artist.
Various artists set up shop to sell crawfish-themed trinkets and eclectic garden decor. But for many of the revelers, it was what was on the menu that mattered most.
Greg Latiolais, of B&L Boilers, expected to sell about 15,000 pounds of boiled crawfish. But there were plenty of other culinary choices for hungry seafood enthusiasts, including such dishes as gator-on-a-stick; frog legs; eggplant seafood volcanoes; and softshell crab po-boys.
There were a variety of attractions and events at the Crawfish Capital of the World’s annual celebration, beyond music and meals.
Saturday boasted crawfish-eating contests and races, as well as Cajun and zydeco dance contests.
On Sunday, participants can enjoy the crawfish étouffée cook-off and the festival’s parade that will travel from Bridge Street to Parc Hardy.
Sunday’s lineup of bands includes Corey Ledet at 10:45 a.m. and Kevin Naquin & the Ossun Playboys, who will play at 12:30 p.m.
Bernard said organizing and putting on an event like the Crawfish Festival isn’t easy or cheap. He said it “easily costs up to $100,000” to put together a festival of this magnitude.
In the budget this year, $60,000 alone was spent on booking musicians, but the festival, which also doubles as a nonprofit organization through its association, benefits several organizations and schools, as well the park itself.
Fifty percent of the funds collected from the $5 parking fees will go to the Shriner’s Club, Bernard said.
A percentage of the profits collected from beverages will benefit the Breaux Bridge Athletic Youth Organization and St. Bernard Catholic School.
“The money has gradually built up since the festival started,” said the festival’s publicity director and Bernard’s wife, Angelique Bernard. “The majority of the money does go back into this park. We recently put in this new sidewalk, which cost about $275,000.
“We’ve done the baseball fields, the wrought-iron fence, the jogging tracks. We try to put about $50,000 into the park each year.”
On top of donating a portion of the profits, Breaux Bridge native high school seniors can apply for a $500 scholarship, which is based on the student’s volunteerism at the festival.
Collectively, the festival’s association has contributed about $1.3 million to civic organizations and city improvements since its conception.
“I’m at the festival every year, and it’s just amazing that we can have something like this here” said volunteer Cherryl “Cricket” Ortego. “These people are from all over the world, and they are coming to our town. This is my town. This is Breaux Bridge, and I am proud to live here.”