For fiddler Anya Burgess, Festivals Acadiens et Créoles is more that just a gig.
“(The festival) is a chance for musicians to get together and hang out for a weekend,” she said. “It really is an annual homecoming.”
Burgess will first perform at 1:15 p.m. Saturday with the Magnolia Sisters on the Scène Mon Héritage stage. Then, she’ll close out Saturday night at 6:15 p.m. on the Scène Ma Louisiane stage with Bonsoir, Catin.
Burgess’ bands are two of more than 60 different musical acts slated to perform across six main stages inside Girard Park this weekend.
Festival Acadiens et Créoles began in earnest as the Louisiana Native Crafts Festival in 1972, which led to a Tribute to Cajun Music concert in 1974. Three years later, the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission decided to combine that festival with the Bayou Food Festival and re-branded it as Festivals Acadiens, which was later renamed Festivals Acadiens et Créoles.
“This festival is the first of its kind, second only to Jazz Fest,” said Pat Mould, the festival’s Vice President of Development and Programming. “When it first started, it was the first Cajun music presented in a concert sort of setting. We had a lot of journalists planning on showing up that first year, but we didn’t know who else was going to show up. I remember there was flooding in the streets, and yet, the fire marshal had to start turning people away.”
The festival has steadily grown over the years. The event annually draws an estimated thousands of visitors every year. However, there is no definitive way to calculate exactly how many visitors converge on Girard Park as entry to the festival is free, and there is no real main gate entrance.
Residents from every state in the United States have experienced the festival as well as folks from 26 different countries last year alone.
“There have been festivals that have been going longer than us, but we are a celebration of our Cajun and Creole culture,” Mould said. “That is what sets us apart. We show people how we live, how we dance, how we eat and how we talk.”
The festival not only showcases the distinctive sounds of the historic region, but also features that world-renowned cuisine. Jambalaya, fried catfish with étouffée, alligator sausage po-boys and boudin sliders are just a few of the dishes visitors will have the opportunity to devour this coming weekend.
Not to mention, Friday night’s opening ceremony features a ribbon cutting of boudin.
This year’s festival will be bigger because this year marks the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Acadians in South Louisiana. The festival celebrates those Acadian pioneers with special exhibits, lectures and events, such as an exhibit of Robert Dafford paintings displayed at the Paul & Lulu Hillard University Art Museum.
Another event that has already generated plenty of buzz is the TintaMardiGras, which will start on the corner of Lewis and Johnston Streets at 4:30 p.m. Friday and arrive at the Festival Stage at 5:30 p.m. for the boudin ribbon cutting ceremony.
“People will be wearing those big paper mache heads and banging on pots and pans with spoons,” Mould said. “We are going to make some noise, and once we get the stage, the party is going to start.”
As for Burgess, she won’t be needing any excuse not to come out to Girard Park. The festival holds a special place in her heart, because of the mood of the people that fill up the park every year.
“I see it as one of my favorite weekends of the year largely because everybody is such good spirits,” Mould said. “You come out here, and you get to enjoy a beautiful setting, and the caliber of musicians is world class. I look forward to it all year.”