Cover Story

Best Fest!

We don't need national surveys to tell us what we already know: Festival International de Louisiane is pure gold, baby.

Is there a better time to be Lafayette, La.? That's a rhetorical question. There is not. As you read this on Wednesday, April 25, or thereafter, I'm on vacation - my annual "stay-cation" devoted to doing virtually nothing but Festival International de Louisiane. I'm hoping for mild, dry weather - knock on wood. But if it's hot and steamy and the heavens open up, I don't give a damn. It's Festival week.

Cover Photo by: Philip Gould

We don't need national surveys to tell us what we already know: Festival International de Louisiane is pure gold, baby.

Is there a better time to be Lafayette, La.? That's a rhetorical question. There is not. As you read this on Wednesday, April 25, or thereafter, I'm on vacation - my annual "stay-cation" devoted to doing virtually nothing but Festival International de Louisiane. I'm hoping for mild, dry weather - knock on wood. But if it's hot and steamy and the heavens open up, I don't give a damn. It's Festival week.

This is the time of year prospective employees should be invited to Lafayette for an interview. The time of year companies considering expanding or relocating to Lafayette should be asked to come. How can you not fall head-over-heels for Lafayette during Festival week? That, too, rhetorical. You cannot. Not. Or whatever.

When the edit staff met a few weeks ago with George Graham and Gerd Wuestemann, the principals behind INNOV8, for an overview of the week-long techie/creative economy series of events, I couldn't help wondering why they would schedule the event to overlap Festival. Who would pay attention to symposia and other events in Lafayette that are not Festival International? Then someone was kind enough to explain to me that this is the perfect time for INNOV8 because its participants, many of them out-of-towners, all of them smart, who may be looking for a city to do business in or move to, will experience Lafayette with its tail feathers wagging. Did I mention there being no better time to be in Lafayette? Summer will come. It will get hot.

I've attended every Festival since its inception when it was more or less a (not much) bigger version of Downtown Alive! with a single stage and just a handful of performers. I was a scraggly English major at then-USL. This new festival was pretty cool. We've both gotten bigger since then, although I'm happy to report FIL's growth has far outpaced mine.

Festival has exploded to the margins of downtown, to multiple stages and satellite events over five days, attracting an estimated 350,000 visitors from all over the world and underscoring the Hub City's burgeoning "Cool Town" status.

But it didn't happen by accident. Farsighted leaders in Lafayette quickly realized the economic benefit, not to mention the cultural cache, FIL brings to our city. Local government began underwriting Festival with - in terms of Lafayette Consolidated Government's overall annual budget of roughly $540 million - a mere pittance that has stood at $72,000 annually for nearly a decade now. Seventy-two grand. But that investment accounts for nearly 20 percent of the budget of the nonprofit organization that spends a year planning the Festival and five days executing it to perfection. FIL does wonders on a dime. It feeds many with but a few loaves and fishes. OK, that was way over the top and possibly sacrilegious, but you get the point.

What does LCG get in return for that investment? An economic impact study on FIL conducted a few years ago estimated that Festival has a $22 million impact on the local economy. That's a stellar return on investment by even the silkiest Wall Street standards, and it generates nearly $1 million in tax revenue for our schools, our police officers and firefighters, our roads and bridges, and for the salaries of our City-Parish Council, some members of which annually maneuver to cut funding to one of the very things that make Lafayette so spectacularly cool and livable.

I've failed to mention one of the best things about Festival: It's free. Let's keep it that way. Buy a pin. Buy the merch. And the next time your rep on the council utters an ignorant syllable about cutting LCG's financial commitment to Festival, let him have it. - Walter Pierce
Cover Photo by: Phillip Gould

The Rumor FIL

Fuzzy math and wishful thinking bring Paul Simon, others to Festival time and time again.

By Dominick Cross

Remember the time Paul Simon jumped on stage at Festival International and rocked an impromptu guitar solo during a Duhks' performance?

How about when the Dave Matthews Band was secretly added to the 2009 Festival lineup and joined Carencro's Marc Broussard for a spontaneous set?

So you don't remember? Neither do I. That's because, well, neither happened.

Year after year, the heart of the Hub City oozes with world-renowned musicians at multiple Festival International stages, delivering cosmic performances you'll likely never see anywhere else. But that hasn't stopped the Rumor FIL from returning annually to our beloved Festival, bringing with it an ambitious list of rock and pop stars like Simon, Matthews, Carlos Santana, Lenny Kravitz and more, whose rumored celebrity cameos are all the buzz - and, as rumors often go, rarely turn out true.

"There have been so many rumors. Every year there's been something," says Festival International Executive Director Dana Baker.

One reason for the rumors is that there are some major music festivals in the region all going on this time of year. The Houston International Festival is April 21-22 and 28-29, and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is April 27-29 and May 3-6. Throw in the fact that Festival is under way now and, well, you get the picture.

Rumors are also started by the fact that FIL musicians sometimes end up on tour with celebrity bands or rising stars. Case in point: Two members of The Duhks, a Canadian folk group and Festival favorite, joined Zac Brown's tour after last year's Fest. And then there are the connections our local musicians have made over the years, e.g., Sonny Landreth, who has played with Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson and Vince Gill.

"And actually, a lot of musicians come here who you wouldn't know walking down the street - they're not the ones the paparazzi follows - you know what I mean?" Baker explains.

Paul Simon's rumored appearances have been recurring for years thanks to Simon's ties to local musician/composer Dickie Landry and the fact that Simon is said to have a house somewhere in Acadiana (also a rumor).

"I always hear Paul Simon - another one I'd love to make happen," Baker says.

But the best explanation Baker gives for the rumors, the theory that gives us Festival-goers the utmost hope, is "because it's possible," she explains.

Look no further than a few years ago, when Bonnie Raitt, said to be in town during Festival, ignited the crowd by joining Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen on stage. Baker also recalls a sighting of one of the members of Pink Floyd.

So all it really takes is some fuzzy math, multiplied by some wishful thinking, to bring the Festival rumors back time and time again. And with FIL recently taking the title of "Best World Music Festival," we may be in for even more celebrity non-sightings than in years past.

"The rumor I heard this year was The Black Keys. I've heard that probably since December," Baker says of this year's scuttlebutt. "I'm not sure what's going on with that, but I've heard it a lot. I think somebody even started the rumor that Jimi Hendrix was going to come, and with that whole hologram thing, he could." Side note: Baker's Festival hologram choice would be Bob Marley for his "world festival feel." My pick: A local musician who has crossed over. Think Clifton Chenier, Canray Fontenot, Dennis McGee.

"Rumors add a little interest, but people like to come regardless of the rumors," says Baker. "I'll tell you that we don't start the rumors. We're like, What's going on? Who's saying that?' We're very clear about not ever putting out information that some band is going to come.

"We're confident enough in the bands that we book that people are going to love them," Baker continues. "Would it be cool if Prince showed up? Yeah, sure, but it's insulting to the people that we do book. But the thing is, people believe [rumors] also because we're cool enough that of course we'd attract them."

And that's no rumor.

**Holy COW, it's a COLT
This year AT&T brought in a COLT for Festival, but that's not the reason your cell phone calls should go through.

With expectations of a huge turnout for this year's Festival International running high - the "Best World Music Festival" accolade has gotta pull record crowds in - you'd expect AT&T to be a little nervous about its service. Not so. The company is confident this year's experience will be much better than last year's.

"We know people complained a lot," says AT&T Louisiana spokeswoman Sue Sperry. "But customers are going to notice a much better experience."

For this year's Fest, the company decided to forgo the two Cell on Wheels units, or COWs, used last year and instead place a single "supercharged" Cell on Light Truck, or COLT, behind the downtown parking garage near Parc Sans Souci. But that's not the game-changer. What's got Sperry and her AT&T co-workers so confident for Festival 2012 is the $1 billion the company spent in the last couple of years on its Louisiana network. During last year's festival, AT&T was in the midst of that infrastructure work; the Festival service was downright pathetic.
Let's face it, Fest-goers are data hogs, but Sperry says since last year's event the company has doubled capacity, essentially adding "more lanes" to its highway. "We have doubled the amount of calls and data we can handle in Lafayette, [and] we also have added 4G to the network in Lafayette," she says. "We didn't have any issues during the Mardi Gras parades, except for a city contractor who cut a cable in the middle of the parade route. ... Again, we still need to see just how many people will be at the festival, which will play a big part on the capacity."

The COLT was put in place last week "to supplement a network we have vastly improved," Sperry explains. A T1 line, or a high-performance fiber optic telephone line, was delivered Friday to connect it to the network. Connections were scheduled to be completed Monday, with the COLT on air by late Monday afternoon. "Twelve radios providing 1st thru 4th carrier and 24 T1s will be used at this event," Sperry continues. "What does this mean to festival-goers? Not much, except we are maximizing the ability of the COLT to provide supplemental service."

Given the expectation for record crowds, we asked AT&T's Sperry for a few tips. Here's some info and advice on how to avoid being a data hog:

Cell sites have a limitation on how much traffic they can handle at once. In a highly congested area where people are shooting video and Facebooking on their smartphones, upload and download times can be delayed. "Wait until you are out of a highly congested area to send your photos and videos," Sperry suggests.

Text message to connect with your friends and family members if your calls are blocked, an indication the tower is congested and a two-way connection can't be completed at that time.

To save battery life, turn off WiFi if you are not using it. "When you have WiFi on, your device is continually looking for a connection," Sperry says. "That drains battery life."

Make sure your phone is fully charged before heading out to the festival. And, of course, advises Sperry, always save some battery life in the event of an emergency. - Leslie Turk

You Take the LIME and the Music Nuts, Shake Them All About...

By Dominick Cross

It won't be on the main stage, but that doesn't make the Louisiana International Music Expo less of a cool deal during Festival International de Louisiane.

Set for Friday, April 27, from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Blue Moon, 215 E. Convent St., LIME is geared for local musicians and it will also be a showcase with selected bands performing.
So it only makes sense that with music being the major cultural export of Louisiana - as well as the state's main cultural attraction - to have an event such as LIME.

It comes down to a networking opportunity for local musicians in a mixer style event to share their music with prominent music presenters and talent buyers from Louisiana, across the country and around the world.

"It's an opportunity for local musicians to meet presenters from other festivals," says Apiyo Obala, marketing coordinator at Festival. Obala says the Moon's environment allows local, unsigned musicians to meet and talk with festival presenters in a casual atmosphere. "It's a perfect fit because it's a musical expo, and the Blue Moon is really well-known for the types of performances they have there."

LIME came about as a response to an increased effort by the office of then-Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism's appeal to institutions state-wide to look for new and innovative ways to boost Louisiana's cultural economy.
LIME forms a network between artists and presenters, but it also aligns with the state of Louisiana's efforts to increase economic wealth of Louisiana by creating jobs and futures.
LIME is directly responsible for booking Louisiana musicians at Lincoln Center Music Festival (Washington, D.C.), World Music Institute (New York), Marabi Productions/Musiques-Metisses Festival (France), Citifolk Festival (Dayton, Ohio), Blues Passion Festival (France), Lake Eden Arts Festival (North Carolina), Red River Revel Music Festival (Louisiana), Festivals Acadiens de Caraquet (New Brunswick), Rhythm & Roots Festival (Rhode Island), Savannah World Music Festival (Georgia), Montreal Jazz Festival (Canada) and others.

The expo, presented by the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission, is free for Acadiana-area musicians, bands and presenters, and $5 for the general public. All genres are invited, including blues, Cajun, zydeco, Louisiana Roots Rock, folk, Swamp Pop, jazz/swing, singer/songwriter, Gospel, and children's music.

It's Called a Biergarten. And It's Awesome**

There's always something new and innovative going on with Festival. This year that includes finding ways to quench the inquisitive thirst of festival-goers.

Take beer, for instance. Specifically, the beers of the La. Craft Biergarten. It's part of the Louisiana Experience that Festival started last year.

"For fans of fine brews, we have six different breweries and 16 different beers," says Festival's Obala. "And these are all Louisiana breweries and these are all craft beers."
The breweries are Abita Brewing Co., Covington Brewhouse, Parish Brewing, Bayou Teche Brewing, NOLA Brewing and Tin Roof Brewing.

"And the really cool thing - in addition to it being a craft beer - if you're not a beer aficionado, you can try and sample all these different beers," Obala says.

Obala says the brew masters are scheduled to talk about their products.

"I found it very enlightening to hear them," she says. "They talk about not just the process, but different flavors. So you're getting an understanding of what it is that you're drinking. It's just an enhanced part of the craft Biergarten."

All beer and no food can make one, well, sort of tipsy. Not to worry, provisions will be in order and on site, too, in the form of a couple of food trucks, as well the Jefferson Street Pub, presenters of the Biergarten.

"Viva la Waffle and Bon Repas started the Lafayette food truck revolution," says Obala. "It's kind of their marketing thing because there haven't been many food trucks in Lafayette, anyway. But it's huge all over the rest of the U.S." There's even a Food Truck Wars segment on the Food Network, she says. "Some of the best food you can have."

Obala says the food trucks catered the festival's pin premiere event and basically wowed the crowd.

By the way, the Biergarten will be set up in the parking lot next to Jefferson Street Pub at 500 Jefferson St.

"A Biergarten is literally an outdoor garden where you drink beer," says Obala, who couldn't help but laugh at the thought of it. Opening night for the Biergarten is Thursday.

"We're going to have some local musicians perform," she says. Sean Bruce, Taylor Verrett and Bridgett Gary are set to play. "That's going to be a really great performance."

Obala says the Biergarten is the latest chapter in the Louisiana Experience book. Last year, the focus was on Louisiana seafood and, of course, music.

"We did a lot of cooking demonstrations with local restaurants, and they all served a variety of different things," she says. "So this year we're introducing craft beer, but we'll still have our cooking demonstrations."

Also known as the Cooking Demonstration Walkabout, food demos will take place Friday at the Accidental Chef, 406 Garfield St., with area restaurants taking turns.
Et Cetera

One of the many wonderful things about Festival is the way it changes the face of downtown Lafayette - literally the sight, sound, scent and texture.
Lafayette becomes an open-air market place of global music, costume and of course cuisine as downtown transforms from a busy Southern downtown into an incredible world music festival.

It's a metamorphosis that is really cool to watch as stages go up and areas for booths and the like are marked off here and there on streets, parking lots and parks. By Wednesday around noon, the excitement is palpable. Come Wednesday night, Festival is on and the excellent vibe continues through Sunday.

That said, there are a couple of Festival events that may sometimes go unnoticed as you scurry from one stage to another, perhaps stopping only long enough to indulge in some food and drink, or to purchase art or cultural crafts along the way.

And these are the music, film and theater events Festival offers through local businesses, arts organizations or UL Lafayette. They fall under a Special Events category. (Note: Some special events are special enough to warrant a cover charge.)

At the Blue Moon, 215 E. Convent St., you'll find Rhythms & Roots, where local and international bands come together in a context of "celebrating the musical bridge between cultures," says Obala. "Basically it's a performance with the two of them where they'll hear different styles and see some really great music happening on stage before their own eyes."
Festival wraps up Sunday, as does Rhythms & Roots with a gospel brunch featuring The Mercy Brothers. Later, it's Festival's Appreciation Party with Vagabond Swing and Slavic Soul Party and others.

In the film category, Soiree de Cinema began Monday at Cité des Arts, 109 Vine St., and French Press, 214 E. Vermilion St., and continues through Saturday.
"It's all these really great French films," says Obala. "One of our artists, Lindigo, is subject of one of our films," she adds, referring to the documentary Creole Cousins - A Portrait of Lindigo in Brazil, set for a Saturday screening at The French Press. "[Lindigo] is going to be having a documentary crew following them," notes Obala. "They're from Reunion Island and this is their first time in the United States."