On the Spot: Joel Savoy

by Nick Pittman

Joel Savoy
Photo by Gabrielle Savoy

Eleven years ago, Joel Savoy and his friends launched the Courir de Faquetaique, a Mardi Gras run that, while traditional, is unlike most other Fat Tuesday experiences.

Tell us about the Mardi Gras Courir you do? How did it get started and what were you trying to accomplish?
A good scene doesn’t happen on its own: it takes people who love what they are doing and who care about details and when that foundation is laid beautiful things can happen. Look at Acadiana: it’s not by chance that people flock here all year long to bask in what we have made. Go into any establishment you love and imagine how it got started. It’s easy to imagine a core group of friends saying, “Let’s go for it” and then busting their asses for years to make it a reality against all odds, but that alone isn’t it.

In those really special places, you go in there and you’re a part of it. You feel like you are part of something special that brings that place to life. You support a place like that because it supports what you believe in and you feel good there. It’s not about a person or a place. It’s about the energy a place like that cultivates. There are lots of places like that in the world, right? To me, what makes Acadiana special — what makes us different — is this reverence we have for tradition. But all these things we love here — Cajun and zydeco music, the food, dancing, French, Mardi Gras, etc. — all that would have been gone for years if it weren’t for a few people who wanted to keep our area unique and who said “Let’s go for it” and the community that rallied around them to keep Acadiana from becoming part of the United States of Generica. Those people — those who insisted and those who supported them — are the reason why this is a special place today. Now thanks to them, for the most part we’re doing pretty good on autopilot, but do you ever catch yourself wondering why you do something that you’ve always done?

It’s easy to pass it off saying it’s tradition, but what does that really mean? Do you do it the exact way it’s been done since your ancestors were here or do you do it pretty much the same but with your own twist? Do you speak Cajun French because that is the language from here that your grandparents spoke or do you speak French French because it’s close enough? Do you just go out and get drunk on Mardi Gras because that’s what everyone does every year or do you yearn for more depth to it? Listen, I’m not judging you … we all do this. It’s definitely a little too easy for real meaning to slip through the cracks these days. We all do lots of things without thinking about them, and that’s just a fact of life today.

In my teens and early 20s, I caught myself feeling disenchanted with Mardi Gras because I wasn’t feeling anything real about it. Sure, it was a tradition, but hell, when you’re a musician and you’re on the road a lot you don’t need an excuse to drink and party with your friends all day long, so what’s the point of Mardi Gras? On top of that, there were lots friends from out of town coming in to experience Mardi Gras and I just felt like a lot of the Mardi Gras I was seeing around home wasn’t worth sharing. So, in the early 2000s I probably would have told them, “Hey, save yourself the trouble and just get drunk with your friends at home.” But, eventually my instigator party animal got the better of me and I started the Courir de Faquetaique — the area where I live, pronounced fihk-ih-tie-ihk — with a few friends to make my own damn tradition that my whole wacky community of friends from around the world could come together and celebrate every year. I guess I just wanted to create my own little magical scene here with my buddies to preserve the Mardi Gras traditions that are important to me.

How is it different from other Mardi Gras celebrations?
We’ve got a few simple rules, like you gotta have a full costume, we allow no spectators, and if you start a fight you spend the rest of the day with our delightful sheriff escorts. But for the most part it’s about being together and sharing a meaningful experience. It’s not exactly your grandpa’s country Mardi Gras, but it’s no sissy parade bullshit either. You come to this and you’re going to laugh and you’re gonna cry; you’re gonna get dirty and do stupid stuff; and you’re gonna be uncomfortable at times but it’s going to be the best day of your year and you’re going be thankful for the life you have been given. I certainly am and I’m looking forward to that fattest of Tuesdays that’s lurking right around the corner!