Festival International de Louisiane turns 30 this year, mere days after I turn 32. I didn’t realize we had so much in common. To celebrate, America’s best free international festival has looked to its origins as a groundswell exchange of francophone culture. This year’s lineup features some long-clamored-for returns, exciting new faces, a glut of Grammy nominees and earth-shattering collaborations. For my 30th I made a mental playlist of youthful regrets and fell asleep in a bottle of terrible wine.
On to happier tales. I’m sure the lot of you are making lists of who to see and what to wear, but allow me to turn your attention to a few of my own personal highlights. To begin, let’s talk about. He’s perhaps the most famous person I’ve ever interviewed, and I didn’t know it at the time. Chances are you’re having a similar experience reading this article. I’ll put a bug in your ear and say that the man is responsible for a multidisciplinary/multi-media art movement emanating from his birthplace of Lille, France. He’s been compared to Neil Young and Tom Waits, and he practically blushed when I told him he sings like Lou Reed. He's so famous in France that he moved to New York 13 years ago to anonymously pursue a career in visual arts.
His Thursday headlining performance — a slot which, for the last few years, has been anchored by more well-known American talent — will feature on-stage collaborations with Lafayette and international luminaries like Zachary Richard, Richard Comeaux, Louis Michot and Chris Stafford. The fore-listed, plus a cavalcade of young up and comers, recorded with CharlElie at Dockside Studios in Maurice earlier this year for a record he’ll release in April, just in time for his performance at Festival. The record is a love-letter to Louisiana, it would seem, so the timing couldn’t be better. The IND will have a longer feature on CharlElie’s forays around Acadiana this March. In the meantime, you can preview a doc about the Dockside here.
Perhaps most bitter sweet will be a tribute to the music of Jillian Johnson, whom we lost in the Grand Theater shooting last year, featuring performances of her songs by her former bands The Figs and Ginger Lee. Last year’s Black Pot Festival — of which Jillian had been an organizer and confidant — hosted a similar celebration to great fanfare. No doubt this will be a cathartic experience, but one that will not disappoint musically or emotionally.
Judging by this year’s line-up preview video, Festival has remained world-class and globally-minded, but much of the sonics and styles have moved to contemporary boundaries. Festival has always done a good job of keeping the kids interested with French hip-hop and punk bands, but this year’s line-up seems to have an even larger display of cultural commonality. Israeli traditional/hip-hofap mashup A-WA features Bedouin chant over B-Boy break beats their most recent video has the Adidas suited break-dancers to prove legit. New Brunswick psych-outfit Les Hôtesses d'Hilaire are tapping into the same kind of retro-Sabbath sludge heroics that have made Austin’s Levitation Festival a runaway success. Fellow Canadians Chic Gamine round out French Canada’s blog-friendly musical sensibilities with haunting female vocal harmonization and murder balladry. I assume its murder balladry, I don’t really speak French.
Infectious world-beat artists, of course, abound this year’s line-up with standouts like Rocky Dawuni, Boogat and reggae superstar Alpha Blondy all set to perform. Tucked in all that international world-music stardom is Irish-punk legend Spider Stacy who will be performing songs from his seminal band The Pogues with Lafayette’s Lost Bayou Ramblers as his engine.
On the local, non-traditional side, keep an eye for Tonomono — a Lafayette-based outfit fixated on electronic Afro-Jazz beats, sensual vocalization and hypnotic production. Members blend Cuban, Puerto Rican and Ecuadoran descent with a penchant for 808s, Rhodes pianos and heartbreak. Sorry, Yeezus. They recently submitted a captivating video to NPR’s Tiny Desk competition, which you can watch here.
Some folks like to phone it in for the 30th year, deny the ravages of age and the irreversibility of their downward spiral. Others are Festival International, using a milestone year as a opportunity to reflect the past are and refine a vision for the future.
You can see the entire schedule on Festival's website here. More info on Festival passes, vendors and merchandise is also available on that site.