Festivals Acadien et Creoles kicks off

by Dege Legg

Festivals Acadiens et Creoles fills this weekend's must-do list.
It started as a noble effort to keep Cajun culture alive and thriving in 1972 and has evolved into the largest Cajun and Creole music festival in the U.S. Founded by Dr. Barry Ancelet, Keith Cravey, James Edmunds and Michael Doucet, Festivals Acadiens et Créoles is now a three-day cultural extravaganza with two main stages for live music, 70 arts and crafts booths, 20 food booths, a chef's demonstration tent and more.

The festival has a long and storied history from its beginnings at Blackham Coliseum as the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana's Tribute to Cajun Music to its move to Girard Park (and periodic battles with the seasonal storms) to its gradual evolution as the marquee Cajun and Creole culture festival, combining the flagship musical festival, The Bayou Food Festival, the Louisiana Craft Fair, Louisiana Folk Roots, Culture Sur La Table, La Place des Petits and Downtown Alive!

"What's really exciting is we've expanded the programming so much. We've upgraded a lot of the infrastructure as far as production and tents for attendees to the festival," says organizer Pat Mould, a Lafayette chef. "There are two big stages, a chef's tent, a dancehall tent and just a whole lot of stuff for people to do." Mould's interest in Cajun and zydeco music sparked after hearing accordionist Austin Pitre, the Balfa Brothers and Clifton Chenier in the late '70s. After a call to Ancelet, Mould began working with the festival. He soon created the Heritage tent, conducting interviews with musicians performing at the festival. It eventually grew into a into the second stage.

"We've continued doing the interviews," says Mould. "We have food and cooking demonstrations. The vision from jump street was to expand the programming of the festival and offerings to the public."

This year's Festivals Acadiens et Créoles honors musician Wayne Toups for his weighty contributions to Louisiana culture. "It's great to be able to honor somebody who is still among us," says Mould. "He's still kicking, playing killer music and his overall contributions to the genre are among the best." Best known for inventing the hybrid "Zydecajun," a combination of Cajun, zydeco and rock, Toups has been a musical force for over three decades, touring the world, recording for major record labels, contributing to movie soundtracks and being the first Cajun musician to enter the pop charts with 1989's huge selling Blast from the Bayou album.

"Wayne is real. You can hear the passion in his voice and when he plays," says Mould. "That's what connects people to him. When he first came on the scene with the whole Zydecajun thing - the two forms together - it was ground breaking." In addition, Toups has appeared in videos and recorded with major country music stars like Mark Chestnutt, Alan Jackson and George Jones.

With his 10-piece big band rocking like a massive Cajun and roots orchestra, Toups will headline this year's Festivals Acadiens et Créoles. "What does one say when someone wants to put you in a category with Belton Richard, Iry LeJeune, Amédé Ardoin and all them old Cajun greats?" asks Toups. "There's not enough good words that can express what it feels like to be part of that selection. It's a wonderful feeling to know that I'm going to be a part of something special like that."

In addition to the three days of festival events, there will be festival-related shows at Downtown Alive!, The Blue Moon Saloon and Grant Street Dancehall.

"This will be a festival not to miss," says Mould.

Festivals Acadiens et Créoles is Oct. 8-10 in Girard Park.