You can’t fully experience Louisiana without enjoying a festival or event. Across the state, groups can attend over 400 festivals, cultural celebrations, musical gatherings, and food-focused functions throughout the year. With its melting pot of cultures from around the world, Louisiana became the cultural and festival destination it is today thanks to its geography. The Mississippi River served as an early gateway to North America for the French, Spanish, Africans, Italians, and Canadians, as well as many other cultures. This unique blend of cultures and heritage influenced and continues to shape Louisiana’s legacy as a global festival destination.
“We hold the unofficial title of ‘Festival Capital of the United States’ for a reason,” says Charlie Whinham, public information officer for the Louisiana Office of Tourism. “In Louisiana, we don’t have a festival season. We have festivals nearly every week of every month of the year. It’s truly amazing.”
Visitors flock to Louisiana for the most popular party of them all: Mardi Gras. Beginning on Fat Tuesday at the end of February, the streets of New Orleans swarm with costume-adorned participants, decorative floats, and live music performers parading down the streets of the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods of the Crescent City.
“We sprint out of the gates running at the beginning of every year for the Mardi Gras season—with a tidal wave of festivals following throughout the rest of the year,” Whinham says.
Mardi Gras spills into a lineup of cultural festivals like the Black Heritage Festival of Louisiana in Lake Charles, the African American Music Festival at Xavier University in New Orleans, and the Adai Caddo Pow Wow, a celebration of heritage and cultural traditions of
the Native peoples of the northwestern region of Louisiana, held in Robeline.
To round out the year of celebrations, locals celebrate Cajun-style Christmas. Along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, the Festival of the Bonfires on Christmas Eve serves as a long-standing holiday tradition in Louisiana. Along the levees in the river parishes of St. James, St. John, and St. Charles, locals light hundreds of flaming bonfires that light the way for “Papa Noel,” or the Cajun Santa Claus. The festival, influenced by old-world French and German colonizers, remains an ode to summer and winter bonfires customary in their homelands.
Every spring since 1970, one of the state’s largest and most recognized jazz festivals featuring music, entertainment, and soul takes over the heart of the birthplace of jazz. The annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans combines local music and culture, attracting thousands of visitors every year. Ethnic influences from African dance and drums shaped what we know as jazz today. The festival’s distinctive American style of music that developed in the early 20th century fills the streets with sounds, rhythm, and the true spirit of jazz music.
But there are more than just jazz music festivals to enjoy across Louisiana.
In the center of Lafayette, the “Happiest City in America,” the largest international music festival in the United States takes over the city streets. The five-day Festival International de Louisiane transforms downtown Lafayette into a colorful celebration of music and entertainment. Other popular festivals like the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival in Opelousas, and the Cajun Music and Food Festival in Lake Charles celebrate musical influence of the region.
Groups will also enjoy The Ponderosa Stomp, an annual American roots music festival featuring the convergence of rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz, country, swamp pop, and soul, and the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo, which mixes an array of traditional and emerging genres with food and art vendors throughout the festival grounds.
Boiled crawfish, zesty Cajun dishes, juicy jambalaya, and mouth-watering gumbo—these local delicacies are among some of the foods that groups will find at festivals around the state.
The family-friendly Louisiana Peach Festival features homegrown flavors, farm-fresh produce, local music, and art vendors. The community-rooted celebration has been a long-standing tradition in Ruston since 1951.
“When the Ruston peach season swings, you’ll want to make your way to the Louisiana Peach Festival,” Whinham says. “Ruston peaches are about the size of, practically, a softball, and they’re the freshest, sweetest peaches you’ll ever taste.”
At the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival outside of Lafayette and the Louisiana Crawfish Festival in the St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans, groups can chow down on crawfish until their bellies are stuffed to the brim. Other seafood festivals like the Amite Oyster Festival, Gulf Coast Shrimp and Jazz Festival in Lake Charles, and the St. Tammany Crab Festival give visitors a taste of Louisiana’s coastal fare.
Finally, in Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, located in Lafourche Parish, a mix of many local flavors can be found at a number of festivals in the area that blend cultural heritage and cuisine. From the French Food Festival and the Creole Classic Fest to the La Fete Des Vieux Temps, or “Festival of the Old Times,” every dish, tune, and cultural influence comes to life in the Louisiana bayou.
For more information, call the Louisiana Office of Tourism at 225-342-9282 or visit louisianatravel.com.
ANOTHER FUN CAPITAL
Shreveport-Bossier is known as the “Festival Capital of North Louisiana”—and for good reason. More than 60 events are hosted there throughout the year. Downtown Shreveport is home to Festival Plaza, where many of the events are held. Check out the Mudbug Madness Festival, Let the Good Times Roll Festival, Red River Revel Arts Festival, Red River Balloon Rally, and the State Fair of Louisiana. shreveport-bossier.org
Main image: Krewe of Freret, Mardi Gras, New Orleans; Credit: Louisiana Office of Tourism
Article by Erica Zazo