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The Best Festivals and Fairs in New Orleans & Lousiana

by Paul Jospeh  |  Published December 14, 2016

A melting pot of French, African, American and French-Canadian cultures, the southeastern state of Louisiana represents American cosmopolitanism at its most dynamic. With such a rich diversity of people, all bringing with them flavours of their heritage, it’s little wonder that this ethnic melange has led to a large number of festivals and fairs taking place here throughout the year, many of which celebrate the magic of multiculturalism. Here are the ones you should look out for over the next six months.

Two dogs dressed to the (ca)nines at the Barkus Mardi Grass Parade (Photo: Barkus Mardi Grass Parade)

January 2017

Mid-Winter Rodeo

There’s nothing more quintessentially American than a good old fashioned Rodeo and each year Louisiana plays host to a large number of such events, which pits the skill of cowboys and cowgirls against horses, bulls, steers and other cattle. One of the most popular is the Mid-Winter Fair Rodeo in the city of Lafayette, where professional contenders from around the world challenge themselves against the finest quality livestock. The event also features clowns and other entertainment. WHEN 12 January WHERE Blackham Coliseum, Lafayette

Mid-Winter Rodeo

The crowd look on at the Mid-Winter Rodeo (Photo: Mid-Winter Rodeo)

Fur and Wildlife Festival

Originally a relatively low-profile fur skinning contest, the annual Louisiana Fur and Wildlife Festival has grown into a far larger event encompassing a range of entertainment centred around animals. Taking place in the small community of Cameron, there’s parades, a Gumbo Cook-off, pageants, a 5k and 1 Mile Run, Cajun music, and a carnival complete with amusement rides. The festival program also features unique contests including duck and goose calling, trap setting, nutria and muskrat skinning, oyster shucking, skeet shooting and dog trials. Proceeds from the festival go to local livestock and high school scholarship programs. WHEN 13-14 January WHERE Downtown Cameron

Krewe of Sobek Mardi Gras Parade

One of a multitude of mardi gras that take place throughout Louisiana each year, this particular version is held in the city of Shreveport and features a fun-packed afternoon of floats, bands, marching groups, drill teams, youth sports teams, homecoming courts and much more besides. Starting at the Fairground Field parking lot, the parade makes its way through the Queensborough neighbourhood, with the number of revellers swelling as it goes along. Colourful and elaborate costumes are the order of the day and there’s no stopping you getting dressed up for the occasion either. WHEN 14 January WHERE Shreveport

Krewe of Sobek Mardi Gras Parade

Floats pass by onlookers at the Krewe of Sobek Mardi Gras Parade (Photo: Pat Austin via Flickr)

February 2017

Barkus Mardi Grass Parade

We all know that man is a dog’s best friend, but your canine companion may beg to differ if you adorn them in an excessively embarrassing outfit for this popular mardi gras. Of course, being unencumbered by vanity like us humans, dogs absolutely love this event whatever they’re wearing, as they are paraded through New Orlean’s French Quarter by their owners. While dogs are certainly the stars of the show, there’s plenty of non-poochy entertainment too, including a Royal Ball. WHEN 25 February WHERE Across New Orleans French Quarter

March 2017

The Independence Sicilian Festival

With its melting pot of cultures, it’s no surprise that much of Louisiana’s annual calendar is made up of events celebrating the heritage of one group or another. One of the most popular to take place each year is The Independence Sicilian Festival, which honours the Sicilian Italian families who came here in the 1880s searching for a place to settle. Held in the heart of Downtown Independence along the railroad tracks, the 3-day festival features a huge programme of events and activities including street dancing, live entertainment, a parade, arts and craft booths, a spaghetti cook-off, a meatball tossing competition, a spaghetti eating contest, Italian music, authentic Sicilian cuisine, and a cultural museum. WHEN 10-12 March WHERE Downtown Independence

The Independence Sicilian Festival

Visitors to the the Independence Sicilian Festival stand proud during a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner (Photo: The Independence Sicilian Festival)

St Patricks Day in New Orleans

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a single day in New Orleans. Instead it’s the excuse for a multi-week celebration featuring parades, block parties and enough corned beef and cabbage to feed an army. The reason for the city’s fondness for St Paddy’s Day is two-fold. Firstly, New Orleans simply loves a party. But of equal importance is the long heritage of Irish people here, having immigrated to the United States in their droves during the 17th century in search of a better life for them and their families. Many wound up settling in a district of New Orleans known as the Irish Channel, but the celebrations are not confined to this area, with the revelry spread throughout the city. WHEN 10 March-15 April WHERE Across New Orleans

St Patricks Day in New Orleans

Revelers enjoying themselves at St Patricks Day in New Orleans (Photo: Ray Devlin via Flickr)

New Orleans Sacred Music Festival

Fancy seeing Tibetan monks strutting their stuff to the sounds of Gospel music? The Sacred Music Festival is where such unlikely scenes take place each year. Billed as melodic, inspirational and uplifting, yet serious and profoundly personal, the festival is certainly a more spiritual occasion than New Orleans’ other more rough and ready musical celebrations, with prayers and chants playing a prominent role. But there are messages for everyone to take, regardless of your levels of faith, thanks to ceremonies and conversations held throughout the festival with the aim of spreading peace, sacredness and respect to all people. There’s also some great food on offer too. WHEN 11 March WHERE New Orleans Healing Center

New Orleans Sacred Music Festival

A performance at the 2016 edition of the New Orleans Sacred Music Festival (Photo: New Orleans Sacred Music Festival)

Congo Square Rhythms Festival

This two-day, family-friendly festival celebrates the music and culture of New Orleans’ African diaspora and the cultural diversity it has created. The event places a strong emphasis on the city’s famous Mardi Gras Indians, with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles one of the prominent acts to perform this year. Other notable names on the line-up include the One Love Brass Band, said to be the only reggae brass band in New Orleans, and there’ll also be a brass band contest for local schools. As well as music, the festival will feature a large Arts Market with dozens of vendors selling locally-produced, hand-made art and crafts. WHEN 19-20 March WHERE Armstrong Park, New Orleans

Tennessee Williams Literary Festival

There are few men or women to have contributed more to America’s rich cultural heritage in the 20th century than Tennessee Williams. The playwright is a true titan and his works still resonate throughout cultural life in the US today. Bringing more than 130 authors, actors, and musicians, together this annual festival was founded to honour Williams’ creative genius in the city considered to be his spiritual home. Held over five days, it has grown to become one of America’s biggest and most popular festivals of its type, providing educational, theatrical and musical programs that showcase actors, musicians, and other artists from across New Orleans, as well as from elsewhere in the US and overseas. WHEN 22-26 March WHERE New Orleans French Quarter

Tennessee Williams Literary Festival

Crowds gather to watch a vocal street performer at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival (Photo: Paul Broussard via Flickr)

Saints & Sinners Literary Festival

This is a festival that combines culture and entertainment with a serious and important message. Founded in 2003, it brings together writers, editors, publishers, thinkers and other spokespeople from the LGBT community in an attempt to educate and inform about HIV and AIDS and to discuss wider LGBT issues. Held over three days, it features panel discussions and master classes focussing on LGBT-themed literary subjects, with speakers encouraged to discuss their work and the impact they feel LGBT literature as a whole has had on the way their community are treated by society. Some of this year’s confirmed speakers include Dorothy Allison, Jamie Brickhouse, Jameson Currier, Michael Thomas Ford, Kate Carroll de Gutes, Matthew Griffin, Greg Herren, Michele Karlsberg, Felice Picano, Martin Pousson, J.M. Redmann, Jake Shears, Drew Nellins Smith, and Carsen Taite. WHEN 24-26 March WHERE Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans

Saints & Sinners

A panel discussion during an edition of the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival (Photo: Saints & Sinners Literary Festival
)

NOLA Pyrate Week

The history of Louisiana is inextricably linked with pirates, who are said to have hid their ships and loot here way back in the 17th century. This rich history is marked each year at NOLA Pyrate Week, a gathering of like minded folks who come to experience real history and culture in the places it actually happened. Held in New Orleans, the 10-day event features an array of volunteer opportunities, live music and performances, vendors and artists, all with a distinctly ‘Pyrate’ theme. Visitors are encouraged to dress up for the occasion, by donning traditional pirate garb including eye patches, pirate hats, wigs and swords. But it’s not all frivolity – proceeds from the event go to various charities across New Orleans. WHEN 24 March-2 April WHERE New Orleans French Quarter

NOLA Pyrate Week

Revellers gather during a previous edition of NOLA Pyrate Week (Photo: Dawn Carl)

April 2017

New Orleans Food Fest

When it comes to food in New Orleans, the emphasis is certainly on the ‘casual’. That’s not to say that people don’t take food seriously here – quite the opposite, in fact. But the settings where people eat are invariably the kind with few airs and graces. Think seafood shacks, barbecue parlors, pie palaces, food trucks and chicken dinner halls. Suffice to say, there’s very little by way of silver service and fine dining here. This relaxed but diverse food scene is celebrated each year at FoodFest, a weekend-long festival that takes place throughout the French Market in the Spanish Plaza. As many as 50 local restaurants and vendors, plus cooks from all over the country, converge on the event to showcase their culinary talents. Entry to the festival is free, although the food is not. WHEN 1 April WHERE New Orleans French Quarter

Freret Street Festival

It may lack the world renowned reputation of Mardi Grass, but the Freret Street Festival in New Orleans certainly holds its own when it comes to outdoor fun and frivolities. Over 2000 local vendors present art, crafts and wearables, while live music takes place on three separate stages. Food also plays a central role in proceedings, with food courts featuring some of New Orleans’ finest chefs and a picnic seating area at every intersection. Children are well catered for too, with a dedicated Kids Area featuring an oversized Jenga set, face painting, a craft table, hourly relay races and sidewalk art contests. WHEN 2 April WHERE Freret Street, New Orleans

Freret Street Festival

Colourfully dressed festival-goers march down Feret Street (Photo: Feret Street Festival)

Franklin Parish Catfish Festival

The historic downtown district of Winnsboro is the setting for this family-friendly festival that features music, magic shows and over 300 diverse booths. Now into its third decade as a fixture on the city’s cultural calendar, the day-long festival attracts large numbers of visitors each year, including locals and outsiders alike. But no need to be shy about throwing yourself into proceedings – the atmosphere is famously friendly and welcoming to all-comers and offers a great day out. WHEN 8 April WHERE Winnsboro

May 2017

Breux Bridge Crawfish Festival

Food, fun and music. What’s not to love about the annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival? Taking place in Parc Hardy in the small city of Breaux Bridge, the 3-day festival dates back to 1960 when the city was named the Crawfist Capital of the World. Today the event attracts visitors from far and wide thanks to its rich programme of events and activities including live music from over 30 bands, dance competitions and the chance to enjoy crawfish cooked and prepared in every conceivable way. WHEN 5-7 May WHERE Breaux Bridge

Breux Bridge Crawfish Festival

Visitors to the Breux Bridge Crawfish Festival hungrily feast on the culinary offerings (Photo: Breux Bridge Crawfish Festival)

UNO Film Festival

The New Orleans film industry has been on the rise for many years now, and this is best exemplified by the growing success of the UNO Film Festival. Showcasing short movies by independent filmmakers from around the world and students from the University of New Orleans, the 3-day festival does its upmost to provide a platform for emerging talent by juxtaposing their work with more established names. The festival takes place at the Performing Arts Center at UNO’s Lakefront Campus and is free to enter. WHEN 6-8 May WHERE Performing Arts Center, University of New Orleans

Rayne Frog Festival

If anyone ever asks where in Louisiana they can see live frogs don pigtails and top hats, then you now know the answer. The city of Rayne has the unlikely privilege of being known as the “frog capital of the world”, an honour that dates back to the 1880s when a Frenchman named Donat Pucheu began exporting frogs legs to New Orleans. Today the Louisiana Frog Company Plant is said to be the largest shipper of edible frogs in the world, and this quirky and enduring heritage is celebrated each year at the Rayne Frog Festival, which offers a distinctly frog-themed programme, including frog racing and jumping, a frog cook-off, a frog-eating contest. Oh, and there’s also the chance to kiss a live frog, but unless you believe in fairy tales, you may want to give that one a miss. WHEN 11-13 May WHERE Rayne

Rayne Frog Festival

A giant metallic tuxedoed frog welcomes visitors to Rayne (Photo: Rayne Frog Festival)

Bayou Boogaloo

Set on the banks of the historic Bayou Saint John river, this 3-day festival fuses culture, creativity and entertainment and is widely considered one of New Orleans’ premier events, drawing an impressive 35,000 visitors each year. There’s live music, art and food in ample supply, plus a whole host of stalls offering anything from photographic prints, jewellery and woodworks to novelty items such as voodoo dolls, ceramic oyster stoneware and handcrafted hats. But there’s no doubting the main attraction here – music. With a total of four stages spread across the festival, and a diverse range of performers, there’s something to satisfy every aural taste. WHEN 19-21 May WHERE Bayou St. John, New Orleans

Birdfoot Festival

“International quality with a local flavour” is how this dynamic New Orleans music festival describes itself. Named after the branching footprint of the Mississippi River Delta, the event takes place in jazz clubs and concert halls across the city, showcasing the very best in live chamber music from both emerging and established artists. As you’d expect from the genre, the festival has a relaxed intimacy which has helped it gain an enthusiastic local following and critical reviews over the years. And in a city with such a strong musical heritage as New Orleans, that’s not to be sniffed at. WHEN 29 May-3 June WHERE Venues across New Orleans

Birdfoot Festival

A musical act in full flow at Birdfoot Festival (Photo: Birdfoot Fest)

June 2017

New Orleans Loving Festival

With contemporary politics and culture causing such divisions across society, an event like the New Orleans Loving Festival has never been more needed. Designed to challenge racism and bigotry by bringing creative people together to work towards social justice for racial minorities, the summer festival serves as a platform for films, art and literature that promote the cause of race relations through their messaging and content. After parties and comedy nights ensure the festival also has a fun and light-hearted side, while gospel concerts also feature on the packed programme. WHEN 2-12 June WHERE Venues across New Orleans

New Orleans Loving Festival

A photo of an interracial couple taken at the New Orleans Loving Festival (Photo: New Orleans Loving Festival)

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