At first glance, Abita Springs is a quiet, almost quaint place. That’s certainly so in contrast to the cacophony created by Interstate 12 cutting through the breadth of St. Tammany Parish.
As native Abitian and new Mayor Dan Curtis puts it, “Once you come up Highway 59 and make that turn under the oaks, it’s almost like you’ve been transported to another way of life.”
But, as most folks know, there’s seldom a lack of activity in Abita.
Witness the next three weekends:
This Saturday, the Abita Opry launches its 34th season at Town Hall featuring the usual blend of country, bluegrass, New Orleans jazz and other Louisiana roots music.
On Sunday, the Abita Springs Tree Symposium and Great Green Giveaway, the renamed EarthFest, takes place at the Trailhead Park. This project of Friends of the Park features planting advice along with 200 trees for the taking, plus food and music at the adjacent farmer’s market.
On March 24, the Busker Festival, the town’s celebration of street musicians, will be held on the Abita Museum stage. The event is being moved from its usual April date to avoid conflicting with Easter.
The Northshore Cajun Dancers on March 23 will hold their monthly get together at the Town Hall. Local favorite Bruce Daigrepont performs.
Finally, on March 30, the Whole Town Garage Sale & Flea Market brings all of Abita together. Thousands of bargain-hunters annually descend on the town, and more than 100 vendors and at least 60 homes will be offering items of all kinds.
“It takes a lot of volunteers to make all of this happen,” Curtis said. “And luckily we have a lot of good people in Abita Springs.
“A lot of them are real characters. But we need 'em, because that’s just part of living in Abita.”
One of those “characters,” former Mayor Brian Gowland (from 1990 to 2002), the person who revived the Opry during his last year in office and founder of the Busker Festival a decade ago, agreed that the volunteers are integral to the success of both events.
“We are blessed to have a wonderful group of people who work hard and sacrifice to make it all possible,” he said. “You may not know them, but it’s a monumental effort.
“There’s a symbiosis between the town and the Opry and now the Busker Festival you won’t find in many other places.”
As is tradition, the Steve Anderson Group, a traditional country band, will lead off the Opry season.
But the other three acts that night will be making their Opry debuts — Zydeco group Big Easy Playboys, bluegrass-oriented Fair River Station and the Riverside Ramblers, a traditional brass band.
Future spring dates are April 20 and May 18.
Certainly the Opry has helped put Abita on the map.
Curtis relates the story of a vacation trip to Whitefish, Montana, where he mentioned to someone where he was from.
“He’d told me he’d heard of Abita Beer, Abita Water and the Abita Opry,” Curtis said. “I guess we’re pretty well-known.”
Thanks to being streamed worldwide on wwoz.com, the Busker Festival is getting that way as well.
It's usually held in April, but Gowland decided to move it up a month because Easter falls on its traditional weekend, and April 7, his second choice, was out because many of the top acts will be at the Brooklyn Folk Festival that weekend.
“We only have six acts, but we want the ‘A’ team,” he said.
Tuba Skinny and the Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band headline the Busker Festival, whose talent lineup is taken from local acts who have graduated from the streets to clubs and tour extensively after JazzFest.
The Buskers Festival benefits the Trailhead Museum.
“Go Green on St. Patrick’s Day!” is the theme of the tree symposium, which, despite its formal-sounding name, is actually a series of informal panel discussions on growing trees plus other plants, including edibles.
And, of course, it being Abita, there’s music and food thanks to the adjacent Sunday farmers market.
“In Abita Springs, we believe in taking care of the environment,” said symposium organizer Regan Contois, who is also a first-term city councilwoman. “And we love our canopy of trees.
“But we’re also going to be talking about doing things like planting a butterfly garden with your grandchildren or making goat cheese. We want this to be educational but also a lot of fun.”
While the tree symposium will draw mostly locals, the Whole Town Garage Sale attracts people from a wide area.
“It gets a little bigger every year,” said George Long, chairman of the museum association, which organizes the event. “We have to limit our vendors even though we have plenty who want to come, and we’ve learned that we need to spread them out down Main Street because there wasn’t enough room to put them in one big spot.
“But everyone does a great job of pulling things together. It’s part of the reason people fall in love with this place.”
The garage sale, Curtis said, exemplifies the things that make Abita special, one that, he added, “makes you work harder as a politician to keep it that way.
“We’ve got a little hidden paradise here which some people like to experience as visitors and some wind up wanting to stay. It’s what a community ought to be.”
Especially in March.