2011 Festival International de Louisiane Dispatch2
Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, 2:30 PM Wednesday afternoon April 26, 2011
“Is this the line for the Lafayette flight?” I ask the young man with the Mohawk hair and black army boots standing next to a tall slender young black man.
“Oui, J’espere,” he says, "I 'ope so."
“Are you playing in the festival?” says I, glancing at the guitar case in his hand.
“Yes, we’re from Montreal, we’re playing Friday night around 7 pm. It’s our first time here.”
“What’s the name of your group?” the woman behind me says, “I’m volunteering at the festival.”
“We’re called Ngabo,” he says, pronouncing it twice so we get the African lilt to it.
So it goes. There are thousands of people from all over the country heading for Lafayette for the Festival Internationale de Louisiane that begins tomorrow. For the next hour, several of them tell me their stories as we sit on the plane waiting for it to take off.
Claire: “My friend Dana Cañedo runs the whole thing. I’m a teacher. I’m coming back early from our school vacation week to volunteer at one of the booths.”
“Don’t even try to drive to the downtown area and don’t take a taxi. Take one of the shuttle buses from the Cajundome that will drop you off downtown.”
With that she punches some buttons on her iPhone and shows me the festival layout.
“Look for Dana in a golf cart whizzing all over the festival area. She’s been doing this for years.”
A woman with her husband one row back. “It’s the largest Francophone festival in the US. There will be upwards of 100,000 people there.”
Claire: “You wont have any trouble writing stories. People down here are really friendly.” Claire and several passengers are Exhibit A.
Claire: “Watch out for the festival punch. It’s sweet and refreshing but loaded with alcohol. They go down easy, not so easy going out,” she laughs.
The woman across the aisle concurs. “Go easy on them. We've all learned.”
Claire: “Don’t’ miss the Walkabout on Friday afternoon, food demonstrations in several locations. You can eat your way through it!”
Woman one row back: “We never miss it, we used to take our kids there every year to the Place des Enfants. There’s a big fountain near Vermillion Street where the kids love to frolic. One of the best years was when the Burundi Drummers organized an impromptu parade down the street. Our girls got right in! It’s a good family festival. Local people love it, people from all walks of life take it in.””
A young woman in the seat across from me pipes up “Will there be dance lessons?” Recently engaged, she’s bringing her California fiancé to her hometown to meet her parents. The fellow looks slightly nervous. It’s one thing to meet your future in-laws. It’s another to do it while learning to dance and eating food you’ve never seen in California.
“Just watch everybody else,” says the woman in the row behind her. “It’s a syncopated dance, listen to the music and move your feet!”
On the jetway as we exit the plane I walk with the white fellow with the Mohawk and the big excited smile. “What’s your name? I’m Andrew, “ he says.
“How did you get invited?”
“Zach Richard heard us play in Quebec and invited us to come for the festival. We’re really not known around here at all. We pay our own way but are happy to be part of the experience. Our music is electronica with African influences,” Andrew says.
The tall young black man turns out to be the singer Ngabo. He doesn’t say anything but if his smile is any barometer, he’s happy to be expanding his horizons way beyond Montreal. And like hundreds of other musicians here, he’ll make new friends and he’ll absorb every note and style he hears. There’s no telling how the cross pollination of musical styles will show up in each musician’s creative future…but it will.
And that fellow from California, he’ll be fine. If ever you want learn a dance or to make a friend by the time you can finish a beer or plate of red beans and rice, Lafayette is the place.
I am Exhibit A for that one.