Crawfish and Guinness, whiskey and cook-offs, Irish and Cajun music — what do they have in common?
The answer lies deep in the heart of Cajun country this weekend as Lafayette prepares to host the inaugural Celtic Bayou Festival.
The event celebrates all aspects of Celtic and Irish American culture as well as the rich Acadian culture of Louisiana.
The festival will take place Friday and Saturday at Warehouse on 535 Garfield St. in Lafayette.
According to husband and wife team Tony and Sheila Davoren, the creative forces behind the festival, Lafayette’s enthusiasm for world music makes it the perfect venue.
“The cultures are similar — the music, the dancing, the storytelling and the sheer joy of life — so our festival has a modern twist, and incorporates both traditions,” Sheila Davoren said.
The couple met while performing in Riverdance, a touring Irish dance show. They moved to Lafayette 13 years ago, drawn by the area’s vibrant music and festival scene.
The only thing that Lafayette lacked, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, said Tony Davoren, was an authentic Celtic festival.
Celtic Bayou Festival opens its doors with a Friday Crawfish & Irish beer night, featuring Irish dancing by the Ryan School of Irish Dance, and live music performances by Celtic-Cajun fusion band Celjun, and The Mairtín De Cógáin Project.
Frontman and Co Cork native Mairtín De Cógáin likens the festival to those of his youth in Ireland.
“The whole village would come out, and everyone was welcomed into the party atmosphere,” De Cógáin said. “It was about everyone, of all ages, having a good time. That made it magical.”
In the spirit of the best of Irish and Cajun traditions, Saturday’s festivities start with an organized pub crawl, a Guinness stout cook-off, and Bailey’s Irish cream bake-off.
Saturday will also showcase a variety of well-known Irish and Cajun musicians from the New Orleans and Lafayette areas, and much farther afield.
The music lineup includes Lafayette band Farouche, North Carolina’s The Red Wellies, Reel Treble, Wild Irish Roots from New Orleans, Whiskey Bay Rovers, and veteran Irish music band Smithfield Fair.
While music is the staple of any Irish or Cajun celebration, the Celtic Bayou Festival also offers such family-friendly events as a “pot-of-gold” scavenger hunt; various dance, Irish language and music workshops; and a Celtic mythology-themed puppet show in partnership with the Lafayette-based Wanderlust Theatre Company.
“For the puppet show, we picked the ancient Irish legend of Oisín, Níamh, and the land of Tír na nÓg,” Tony Davoren said. “I wrote music for the story, and the amazing talents of Wanderlust brought the story to life with lots of great imagery, wild Celtic characters and an enchanted backdrop.”
“We wanted to do something for kids that was more than just the usual face painting and crafts.”
According to Sheila Davoren, local support for the festival has been overwhelming.
“This is our first year,” Sheila Davoren said. “Once we have that under our belt, the hope is that next year we will be able to bring in our favorite bands from Ireland and Scotland.”
“We would like to plant the seeds for Irish music and culture here in Lafayette, and watch them grow.”