April 1, 2015 01:19 PM

FOR MOST, FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL IS SOMETHING THEY EXPERIENCE ONE WEEK OUT OF THE YEAR. FOR LISA STAFFORD, IT’S A YEAR-ROUND AFFAIR.

Lisa Stafford
Photo by Robin May
After working for years as a legal secretary, Lisa Stafford made a major job shift, becoming Festival International’s programming director in 1998. And while that might seem like a parttime gig to those of you who enjoy Fest once a year, you couldn’t be more wrong.

“I can’t imagine my life without Fest; they’ll have to let me go when I can’t walk anymore,” Stafford says.

In her 17 years on the job, she’s seen a little bit of everything, from artists complaining about not having the right kinds of towels or water to borderline catastrophes that could have put a stop to Festivals of years past, like the torrential downpours of 1997 that left parts of Downtown Lafayette flooded, or the year right after 9/11 when it was almost impossible to book international acts due to all the airline restrictions.

Another close call came several years ago when volcanic ash threatened to keep a number of the acts grounded in Europe.

“A lot of bands in Europe did finally make it, but I remember Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, they were our big Thursday night closer,” recalls Stafford. “I remember them driving up at the hotel on the day of the show, all road weary, and Sharon Jones coming out of the van after camping out at the London airport for three or four days. She gets out and the first thing she asks for is fried chicken. Their bass player, though, who is also the music director of the band, was seriously ill, so I personally took him to the hospital. He laid in that hospital bed for several hours getting hydrated, and when it was time for their set, he was picked up and literally dropped off right at the stage.”

Stafford has also seen a number of big changes in her years as programming director, the Internet being one of the biggest. In the early days, she says, everything — the booking and contracting of the artists — was done through snail mail and faxing.

Though she’s quick to point out the value of all of Festival International’s staff of six, Stafford herself plays a big role in the final product enjoyed each year by the thousands who descend on Lafayette. Along with finding the talent — a huge job in and of itself that requires year-round stops at music festivals and wading through piles and piles of artist submissions — she’s also the point person for coordinating everything from airline and hotel reservations to transportation for the artists once they’re here (and more). “I’m still getting 50 submissions a day now, and we’ve already started sending out offers to artists for 2016,” she notes.

Once all’s said and done and the last act has finished, Stafford spends the next weekend the same way she does every year: in New Orleans enjoying Louisiana’s other big-time music festival.

And while she always finds at least one moment during each year’s Festival to relax and enjoy herself, those breaks are definitely few and far apart; she spends her days during each Festival running on little sleep while attempting to stay on top of a cell phone that won’t stop ringing.

“The moment I enjoy most is every now and then when I get a chance to sneak out on stage for a look at the crowd, and it always makes me say, ‘Wow, we did this,’” says Stafford. “I’ve got to give kudos, really, to everyone in this office and all the talent we have here. We really have a great team.”