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The Best Festivals and Fairs in New Orleans & Louisiana

by Paul Jospeh  |  Updated May 24, 2018

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. Below are the ones you should look out for over the next six months. And if you want to know about 2019 dates, be sure to keep checking the official event websites.

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

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.

WHEN 11-14 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. There’s parades, a Gumbo Cook-off, pageants, a 5k and 1 Mile Run, Cajun music, and a carnival with amusement rides. The festival program also features quirky contests including duck and goose calling, trap setting, oyster shucking, skeet shooting and dog trials.

WHEN 12-13 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 features a fun-packed afternoon of floats, bands, marching groups, drill teams, youth sports teams, homecoming courts and much more. 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.

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)

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’re 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 4 February WHERE Across New Orleans French Quarter

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 is The Independence Sicilian Festival, which honours the Sicilian Italian families who came here in the 1880s searching for a place to settle. The festival features a huge programme of events and activities including street dancing, live entertainment, a parade, arts and craft booths, a spaghetti cook-off, Italian music, and authentic Sicilian cuisine.

WHEN 9-11 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

In New Orleans, St Patrick’s Day is an 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 arrived in their droves during the 17th century. Many wound up settling in the city’s Irish Channel district, but the celebrations are not confined to this area, with the revelry spread throughout the city.

WHEN 11-25 March 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. There’s also some great food on offer too.

WHEN 10 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 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. The festival will also feature a large Arts Market with dozens of vendors selling locally-produced, hand-made art and crafts.

WHEN 3-4 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. Bringing more than 130 authors, actors, and musicians, together this annual festival was founded to honour Williams’ creative genius in the city considered his spiritual home. Held over five days, it has grown to become one of America’s biggest festivals of its type, providing educational, theatrical and musical programs that showcase actors, musicians, and other artists from across New Orleans and beyond.

WHEN 21-25 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. There’s 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.

WHEN 23-25 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, featuring an array of 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 local charities.

WHEN 30 March-8 April WHERE New Orleans French Quarter

NOLA Pyrate Week

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

Freret Street Festival

It may lack the world-renowned reputation of Mardi Grass, but the Freret Street Festival 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, with food courts featuring some of New Orleans’ finest chefs. 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 7 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 14 April WHERE Winnsboro

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 4-6 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.

WHEN 11-13 May WHERE Performing Arts Center, University of New Orleans

Rayne Frog Festival

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.

WHEN 10-12 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 festival fuses culture, creativity and entertainment. There’s live music, art and food, plus a whole host of stalls offering everything 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 18-20 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.

WHEN 30 May WHERE Venues across New Orleans

Birdfoot Festival

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

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.

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)

Essence Festival

Hosted by Essence, a lifestyle magazine for African American women, this is one of the highlights of New Orleans’ summer music scene. Many of the top-sellers in the African American – and crossover – music scene are drawn to the event, and it has become a “must” for stars making the rounds on the touring circuit. It also gives African American artists, writers, craftsmen, culinary artists, businesspeople and others a chance to show and sell their wares at a bustling outdoor market.

WHEN 5-8 July WHERE Venues across New Orleans

Tales of the Cocktail

This summer the worldwide cocktail community will descend on New Orleans once again as Tales of the Cocktail returns for its 16th year. The annual gathering that’s equal parts cocktail conference and family reunion will feature a spirited schedule of brand new seminars, tastings, competitions and networking events representing the latest the industry has to offer, all under the newly formed Tales of the Cocktail Foundation – a non-profit organisation that educates, advances and supports the global hospitality industry and creates lasting impact in host communities. The 2018 conference will also feature special events planned to honour the tricentennial of New Orleans.

WHEN 17-22 July WHERE Venues across New Orleans MORE INFO www.talesofthecocktail.org

Tales of the Cocktail

Umbrella-adorned drinks at Tales of the Cocktail (Photo: Randy Schmidt)

Naughty in N’awlins

Billed as one of the world’s largest lifestyle convention for couples, more than 1,000 polyamorous couples descend on New Orleans each year for this epic swinging convention. The event includes a giant Sexual Freedom Parade aimed at raising awareness of polyamorous relationships, swinging lifestyles and so-called archaic laws outlawing sex toys. There’s also seminars and workshops on Tantra, BDSM, photography, massage and much more.

WHEN 25-29 July WHERE Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel, New Orleans

Satchmo Summerfest

Presented by Chevron, this festival celebrates the life, legacy, and music of New Orleans’ native son, Louis Armstrong. What began in 2001 as a way to commemorate the musician’s 100th birthday has grown into a three-day event filled with entertainment, education, and fare from some of New Orleans’ most notable restaurants. Featuring over 100 artists representing New Orleans’ finest traditional and contemporary jazz musicians and brass bands, the festival also showcases New Orleans’ most important indigenous traditions, such as a Sunday morning Jazz Mass at the historic St. Augustine Church in Treme and traditional second line parade. A modest $5 daily admission helps support local musicians and funds the event.

WHEN 3-5 August WHERE New Orleans Jazz Museum

Satchmo Summerfest

A colourful parade at Satchmo Summerfest (Photo: Satchmo Summerfest)

Delcambre Shrimp Festival

The Delcambre Shrimp Festival honours the area’s rich heritage when it comes to the humble shrimp, celebrating the local shrimping industry with events including a shrimp cook-off, queens, pageants, fais-do-dos, carnival rides, boat parade, food court and much more. During the festival you can enjoy signature shrimp dishes like boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, shrimp sauce piquante and shrimp salad. And if your kids are fussy eaters, there’s plenty to keep them entertained besides shrimp-based food too.

WHEN 16-20 August WHERE Venues across Delcambre

Delcambre Shrimp Festival

A chef cooks up a treat at the Delcambre Shrimp Festival (Photo: Louisiana Sea Grant via Flickr)

New Orleans Burlesque Festival

For centuries, New Orleans’ French Quarter has been a hotspot for burlesque entertainment and this festival brings together the world’s best burlesque performers, comic emcees and singers for four days of elaborate, risqué shows. Among the highlights is The Queen of Burlesque Competition, featuring classic striptease dancers who perform their solos to live traditional jazz music in front of panel of celebrity judges charged with choosing the winner.

WHEN 20-23 August WHERE Hilton New Orleans Riverside

New Orleans Burlesque Festival

A performance at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival (Photo: Kaylin Idora Photography via Flickr)

Irish Fest

Celebrating the finest in Irish music, food, and culture in New Orleans, this event attracts anyone and everyone with a passion for all things Irish – whether it’s a beloved distant relative or a penchant for Guinness. There’s food, music, a dance competition, a Kilt runway show, bagpipers and lectures, plus a dedicated children’s area with pony rides, face painting, animal petting, crafts, science experiments and more.

WHEN 15 September WHERE Kingsley House, New Orleans

Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival

The small city of Gonzales in the parish of Ascension, known for its Jambalaya, history, and booming industry, is scenic enough from the ground, but this annual two-day festival gives people the chance to cast their eye over its distinctive charm from a rather more elevated vantage point. There’s hot air balloon glows, along with live entertainment, a barbecue competition, fireworks shows, carnival rides, a children’s village and plenty more.

WHEN 21-22 September WHERE Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, Ascension

Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival

A dramatic bird’s-eye view over the Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival (Photo: Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival)

New Orleans Fried Chicken Festival

The National Fried Chicken Festival presented by Raising Cane’s is a free outdoor festival that brings food, music, family and festivities together in celebration of the classic Southern dish. Hosted at New Orleans’ Woldenberg Riverfront Park along the banks of the Mississippi River, attractions include three music stages, football lounge, kids pavilion, misting lounge, celebrity cooking demo stage, and an ultimate VIP experience.

WHEN 23-24 September WHERE Woldenberg Riverfront Park, New Orleans

New Orleans Fried Chicken Festival

Crowds gathered in front of a stage at New Orleans Fried Chicken Festival (Photo: New Orleans Fried Chicken Festival)

Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival

As Louisiana’s largest sugar-cane producer, the small rural community of Iberia Parish is a fitting host each fall to the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival and Fair. The five-day event has celebrated the impact of the sugar industry on the region for more than 75 years, with highlights including a carnival-style fair, live musical performances, amusement rides, games, and a variety of food vendors. In keeping with the theme, there’s also a sugar cookery contest, sugar cane displays and sugar artistry exhibits.

WHEN 26-30 September WHERE Bouligny Plaza, New Iberia

Gretna Heritage Festival

The New Orleans suburb of Gretna plays host to a 3-day music festival, spread across 25 blocks of the town’s historic district. With fun for all the family, the event attracts large crowds who come to enjoy live music performances by local and national acts, plus arts & crafts, rides, entertainment and a specially themed Italian Village and German Beer Garden. In fact, while billed as a music festival, the fabulous food and drink here is enough alone to make it one of the region’s most popular annual occasions.

WHEN 28-30 September WHERE Venues across Gretna

Gretna Heritage Festival

Extravagantly attired visitors to the Gretna Heritage Festival (Photo: nola.agent via Flickr)

Mooringsport Cypress Festival

Founded in 1991 by a passionate group of stay-at-home, civic-minded local mums, Mooringsport Cypress Festival has grown to become a hugely popular event with family and community at its beating heart. Visitors can expect a huge array of live entertainment, delicious food and drink, a raffle, arts and crafts, food eating contests, karaoke, children’s activities, a parade, fireworks and more across a single day in September.

WHEN 30 September WHERE Edwin Tuttle Currie Park, Mooringsport