Monday, July 30, 2012

NOTE-worthy Lafayette

During our past winter's stay at Bentsen Palm Village RV, we reconnected with Pat and Sue Genereux, a retired couple from Iowa we'd met during a stay at Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, LA in 2010. Although our initial meeting was ever so brief we must have made quite an impression. Well, if not us, then our full-time lifestyle. We gifted them our copy of Complete Guide to Full-time RVing: Life on the Open Road after they had shown a great deal of interest in learning the ins and outs of making a similar transition. Published in 1998, the book is now somewhat dated (especially chapters on communications and electronic entertainment) but it still encompassed enough useful basic information to get them started in the right direction.
Since that first encounter with the Genereuxs, we stayed in touch via email, monitoring their progress to become nomads like us and the thousands of other people who have forsaken their home "footprint". Alas, the usually reliable housing market tanked, however, not to be deterred, they concentrated on other components of going full-time over which they had more control. They wanted to be ready to move quickly when their house sold. Not if, but when
Although we failed to solve the world's problems during many lively Happy Hour conversations at Bentsen Palm Village RV, we did learn a great deal about Pat's family heritage: "les Acadiens". Stories about how the Acadians were exiled from Canada (including some of Pat's ancestors) and how they came to settle in Louisiana, bringing with them their Cajun patiots, their culinary tastes, and, their musical roots. Conversations about the latter developed into a plan for our next stop after leaving Texas: to attend the five-day (25th) annual International de Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana. Pat and Sue would serve as our guides. How could we not go?
Some 180 miles and nearly five hours later after leaving High Island, we arrived at Bayou Wilderness RV Park outside Lafayette. Pat and Sue had arrived a few weeks earlier and  thoughtfully arranged for us to have a site next to theirs. Late Thursday afternoon we rode with them into Lafayette to see the what all the hullabaloo was about.

welcoming signs were everywhere
The festival was located in downtown Lafayette. Right off the bat we were reminded of Milwaukee's Summerfest grounds...except that the sound stages, six in all, were interspersed with downtown businesses. Beside the sound stages, or "Scénes, food booths run by area restauranteurs/vendors offered various popular specialties associated with each restaurant. Beverages were sold in a similar fashion but where food was purchased for cash directly from a vendor, beverages were purchased using tickets purchased at ticket booths scattered around the festival. For example, a sheet of ten tickets sold for $5. A beer sold for 6 tickets, a glass of wine for 7 tickets, and mixed drinks were all over the board but cost no more than 9 tickets. It left us with a bit of a math conundrum to sort out buying enough tickets and not have any left over by the end of the festival.

Scéne Popeye venue
Food choices? Well, let's just leave it at overwhelming. What we wound up doing was watching what others were eating and asking them where they had gotten their food. No one could ever complain about going hungry! Here's a list of food locations/options (check out the links to see why choosing food was such a delicious dilemma!). Scéne Popeye, Lus Pavillion de Cusine, Scéne Chevron, Scéne Malibu, Scéne TV5Monde, Super Chevy Scéne des Jeunes, La Craft Biergarten.
beverage menu at one of several booths
Again, the similarity of walking from venue to venue reminded us of the various fests Milwaukee hosts at the Summerfest grounds. Oh, and by the way. No one was restricted to stay in a beer tent or behind a snow fence enclosure. Everyone was free to walk about with their beverage whether it contained alcohol or not. Over the four days we attended the festival, in spite of crowded conditions at times, there was no display of public drunkenness. For that matter everyone, young and old alike, behaved exceptionally well. We could have done without the cigar smokers, though...

one of many interesting T-shirts
None of the Scénes offered seating. Many attendees instead carried camping chairs in bags slung over their shoulders, ready to plop down at a moment's notice. We carried our chairs during the first day but learned it was just too much of a hassle. Far easier to stand/watch/listen. Besides, once seated, there always seemed to be someone standing - or more likely dancing - in front of where we chose to sit. And there was a lot of spontaneous dancing.

Tom, Sue and Pat
Since the city hosted many festivals in a given year, the main Scénes remained in place year round . We don't know how other events were organized but if they're anything like this festival, the city is to be highly commended. Approximately 1,500 volunteers worked 'round the clock to keep things running smoothly. Area businesses and/or individuals donated a lot of time and money to keep the cost of the event at a minimum. Oh - and did we mention the entire festival (aside from purchasing food or beverages) was FREE?! Yes, free! Proceeds from the sale of food and beverages, posters, festival-theme clothing and pins (available in a large event-run gift shop) contributed toward funding the performers, including their housing, and, in many instances, their transportation to and from Lafayette.

Genereux's family dog, Gizmo minding his owner Pat
Event information booths were scattered throughout the area. A handy map and a list of performers/schedules/locations was freely available (in French and English), both in town and online. In fact you could build and print your own schedule online so you wouldn't miss acts you were keen on seeing. And what about those ubiquitous porta-potties? They were in good supply and found almost everywhere (always kept clean, too!). Trash? Lots of barrels emptied daily and, they accommodated recycling! Police and security were present but always in the background. It was comical at times to see officers on bicycles try to negotiate shoulder-to-shoulder crowds but again, everyone was just so darned polite that a large security presence seemed unwarranted. No doubt there was a lot of behind the scenes oversight but it was never obvious or intrusive nor did it take away from the festive atmosphere.

gator bread
When Pat and Sue first told us about the festival we had envisioned listening to lots of Zydeco  music. And sure enough, there was no shortage of that. However, what really impressed us was that the vast majority of acts and performers that covered a far wider range of musical cultures. During our first evening we experienced an opening ceremony with guitarist Brother Dege Legg playing a Jimi Hendrix-meets-Ry Cooder slide guitar rendition of The Star Spangled Banner; Sonny Landreth, contemporary blues-rock (Louisiana); Ceux Qui Martinet Debout, a big band brass/funk sound (France); and Robert Randolph and The Family Band, funk/rock/soul (United States). Note: several performer links in this blog entry lead to a video sampling of a group's unique sound.
Time passed quickly and by the time we headed back to the RV park it was way later than Carol was used to staying up. Still, her toes were still tapping when she fell into bed.
The next day, Friday, the festival began earlier at 1:00 p.m. rather than the 6:00 p.m. start from the day before. Having quickly learned that driving and parking in Lafayette during the festival was difficult and expensive, we instead drove to the University of Louisiana (Lafayette) Canjundome, the school's large sports complex. There we found free parking and access to free shuttles that took festival goers to and from downtown. All the buses belonged to the university but for the event, were leased by an area auto dealer who covered all operating costs. University students drove the buses for tips.

a bit messy but really, really good
While festival grounds seem crowded on Thursday, attendance on Friday seemed to double. In fact we've since learned that the festival set an all-time attendance record of well over 400,000 attendees during its five day run. Based partly on recommendations from Sue and Pat, and partly by our own tastes, we chose which venue to visit, all the while sampling foods and beverages whenever the mood struck. We usually didn't stay for an entire set at a given venue, preferring instead to sample as many venues as possible. Still, it was difficult to drag ourselves away from a really entertaining group knowing that we didn't want to miss another. Our sampling included: A very lively can't-resist-dancing-to Pedro Martinez Group, Latin percussion (Cuba); Cheikh Lo, a blur of motion and sound African beat (Senegal), ; Bombino, desert rock (Niger) with electrifying guitar playing that conjured up Jimmy Page; Pine Leaf Boys, traditional Cajun (Louisiana); Joel Savoy's Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round, traditional country (Louisiana); and rounding out the evening, a mind-altering electronic/dance group, Beats Antique (United States).

shrimp and chips
Coddling sore feet from walking/standing most of the day, and with full stomachs (oooh, shrimp wraps and lots of cold beer), we headed back to catch a shuttle. Pat and Sue stayed to meet up with friends who were coming to the festival later in the evening - far later than we could stay. There was a bit of a wait for a shuttle but everyone was in such a festive mood we hardly minded. But it sure felt good to hit the hay once we were back in our RV. We really do function better as morning people.
Saturday found us meeting up with Pat and Sue and their friends Bill and Charmay at a local must-do-breakfast-at institution: T-Coons. Yikes! Authentic Zydeco cooking - a blend of Creole and Cajun exclusive to the Lafayette region. Oh, and did we mention the fabulous beignets? Magnifique!

Tom, Charmay, Sue, Bill, Pat, in front of T-Coon's
We left T-Coon's and marched directly next door to Poupart Bakery. It's a darned good thing we were stuffed from breakfast or we might have bought bought the place out. As it was, we settled on buying fresh rolls and bread for later.

in Breaux Bridge
Carol and I wanted to visit the neighboring town of Breaux Bridge so Pat offered to act as our guide. Sue, Bill and Charmay had some shopping plans elsewhere. After we regrouped at the RV park, we set out for Breaux Bridge, known for its great food, architecture and its "joie de vivre" (joy of life). It also claimed the title of crayfish capitol of the world. Alas, we were a week too early for the town's annual crayfish/music festival but there was no lack of eye-candy sightseeing as we strolled the downtown.
Strains of a soul-blues song emanating from the cramped and dimly lit Le Café caught my attention. Ducking inside I just had to see where the music was coming from. It turned out to be Donna Angelle sitting at a keyboard crooning her heart out to a crowd of patrons. I just had to have a copy of the CD she was selling. What a voice - and what an interesting background. Turned out she had been the frontman for a couple of bands (one was her own) playing a bass guitar. Highly unusual for a Zydeco group when the frontman typically played the accordion. A tragic auto accident had knocked her out of the music scene for several years and she was just now starting to get back into the groove. Would have loved to have plunked down in a corner and stayed for more but we had to get back to the RV so we could catch more of the festival.
sound board for Scéne Popeye
Back in downtown Layfayette, we stuffed ourselves with fried catfish, more beer, and fresh hot rum bread pudding with a French vanilla ice cream topping. Of course all this was enjoyed while watching various groups: The Debo Band, blending an Ethiopian groove with funk/jazz (Ethiopia); Khaira Arby, desert blues (Mali); and capping the evening off a rompin' stompin' reunion of the Texas Tornados w/Flaco Jiménez, Augie Meyers, and Shawn Sahm, Tex-Mex rock at its best. The end of another great day in Cajun country (and another late night).
Sunday was the final day of the festival and our last full day in Lafayette. Intrigued by Pat's stories about the origins, migrations, and subsequent settlement of the Acadians (Cajuns) in Lafayette, we fit in a visit to the Lafayette Cultural Center, part of the larger Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. We had visited two other sections of the park when we were in New Orleans a few years earlier: the Barataria Preserve and the park's visitor center located in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Many of the preserve's displays along with comments from knowledgeable staff added visuals to many of the stories Pat had related. Well worth a visit if you're ever in the region.

Tabasco by the jug
In early afternoon we caught a shuttle back to the festival in time to soak in more performances, and, tried to not stuff ourselves silly (we had plans to dine out with Pat and Sue later that evening). The music was as varied as it had been on previous visits. Canailles, rousing bluegrass/country (Quebec); Bayou Teche's LA 31: Route de Rock, classic rock meets Cajun/Creole; Feufollet, traditional Cajun (Louisiana); Lost Bayou Ramblers, more traditional Cajun (Louisiana); Chico Trujillo, punk/ska/Chilean folk (Chile-Cumbia); and Rusted Root, a rock/fusion band celebrating their 20th anniversary (United States) to close out the festival.
The crowds were less, well, crowded. Pat and Sue had driven into town and parked so they offered to take us back to the Cajondome to retrieve our truck rather than our having to wait for a shuttle. On the way back to the RV park we stopped at Prejean's, another local Cajun culinary must-do for foodies like us (no we didn't have the gator). We all agreed that perhaps it was a time to take a break from eating out so much...but not until after dinner.

Carol, Tom, Sue , Pat finishing up at Prejean's
Monday found us packing up for our trip north to Wisconsin. We had managed to put the binoculars aside for a while but now needed to dust them off to catch a few more bird species as we headed north. Plus, there was the May neotropical bird migration in WI to think about, too. However, we would not soon forget our visit to Lafayette's music festival any time soon. In fact, we agreed with Pat and Sue that perhaps we might do this again - next year perhaps? While we had known about the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which in it's own right is quite spectacular, that festival is also very expensive. And the lure of the French Quarter can be very tempting but, given the hospitality, diversity and low cost of Lafayette, we'd prefer to come back to true Cajun country.

street band downtown Lafayette
Many thanks to Pat and Sue for shepherding us around and showing us the ins and outs of the festival. It wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without them. They stayed on a bit longer in Lafayette as they have done in years past to partake in more of the region's music festivals. However, soon after we left Lafayette we learned that their Realtor had notified them of an offer on their house in Iowa and they quickly returned to seal the deal. Their house has now sold and they have purchased a new, larger RV and truck. Last we heard they were headed west to register their vehicles in South Dakota and become resident nomads just like us!
Carol and Sue ready to dance

No comments:

Post a Comment