Roughly the French equivalent of July Fourth for Americans, Bastille Day — a national holiday in France commemorating the start of the French Revolution — will be celebrated in New Orleans beginning Saturday.
While activities will continue through Friday, July 17, the heart of the celebration is the Bastille Day Fête, a free festival beginning Saturday at 11 a.m. in Spanish Plaza.
“We’re going to have it all — food, music and fun for the whole family,” said Aurelie Champvert, executive director of Alliance Française de La Nouvelle-Orleans, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting knowledge and appreciation of the French language and culture.
Alliance Française is presenting the festivities, along with the Gulf Coast chapter of the French-American Chamber of Commerce and the French Consulate in New Orleans.
Highlights of the event will include live music by the Grammy-nominated Hot 8 Brass Band, along with local Francophone bands and French-themed cuisine from restaurants including Antoine’s, Café Degas, Breads on Oak, Crepes a la Cart and the St. James Cheese Factory.
Plum Street Snoballs will be on hand, offering a special Bastille Day sno-ball.
There also will be a few activities completely unique to the event.
“A real crowd favorite every year is the Bastille Day Dog Costume Contest,” said Mary Matthews, marketing and development coordinator for Alliance Française. “We encourage people to have fun dressing up their dogs in a French theme, and we’ll be presenting prizes, both for ‘most French’ and ‘best dressed.’ ”
Playing off the French tradition of celebrating the day in local fire stations, Bastille Day Fête also will feature a unique water show on the river, created by the Gen. Roy S. Kelley Fireboat, at 3:30 p.m.
“This is a real working fireboat, used to fight fires along the river by the Port of New Orleans,” Matthews said. The boat will be open for tours from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This year, a fireworks display will be added, with explosions timed to French patriotic music, at 9 p.m. The display will be seen from the Moonwalk.
A variety of children’s activities will be available all day, including the opportunity for kids to make their own butter to enjoy with traditional French bread and a new feature to the event, a French-themed photo booth.
“This is the only large-scale event in Louisiana celebrating French National Day, so it’s a real chance for us to celebrate our French heritage,” said Meagen Moreland-Taliancich, communications attaché for the consul general of France in Louisiana.
“There are currently about 1,000 French citizens registered with the consulate in Louisiana, and we estimate another 2,000 are not registered. This, of course, doesn’t include Cajuns and other French speakers. Plus, we get about 90,000 French tourists visiting Louisiana every year.”
Gregor Trumel, consul general of France, said New Orleans’ French heritage and continued popularity with French speakers make it the ideal place to celebrate.
“It’s only fitting to celebrate Bastille Day in the most Francophile city in the USA,” he said. “French in Louisiana is about bringing people together to celebrate its history, its heritage and its future.
“At the Bastille Day Fête, Louisianans can dance, sing, and enjoy the summer alongside our Francophone and Francophile friends across the world.”