beholding the bounty of Louisiana.

A center of bayou country, Houma in Terrebonne Parish is the ideal spot to take in the unique Cajun Courir de Mardi Gras, as well as more typical Mardi Gras krewe parades. The Courir comes from how Mardi Gras was celebrated in rural France. Masked celebrants on horseback ride from home to home, town to town, to beg for food for the evening celebration meal. It both marks springtime renewal and serves to renew community ties. Music and dancing goes until midnight and the clock ticks to Ash Wednesday. Visitors here for Carnival will find this trip a blast in itself and a welcome respite from the crowds in New Orleans.

April brings two enticing events to the Houma area. The Spring Southdown Marketplace Arts and Crafts Festival offers a perfect opportunity to experience history and contemporary Cajun culture. Held at the Southdown Plantation, this event also includes plenty of music and food. At the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet, visitors will participate in one of Terrebone Parish’s most important days. Everyone comes out for this vital ceremony that also includes a Cajun folk art festival, activities for the kids, and plenty of music and food. For both, folks should bring their dancin’ shoes. Oh, yeah!

Our capital, Baton Rouge, contributes to Louisiana being the festival state. The first weekend of April brings the one-stop, two-day-all-day “Fest For All.” That about covers it! The emphasis is on art, though food and music will be easy to find. This is Louisiana, after all. Experience the fun of a community party and enjoy the work of 75 artists. The Children's Village will entertain and educate the kids. No wonder “Fest For All” is perhaps the state’s premier arts festival.
Sure, Mississippi spawned more blues players than anywhere else, but remember the first line of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” about a young man who played his guitar like ringing a bell “Deep down Louisiana, outside New Orleans.” The state’s stunning tradition of blues, and rhythm and blues, gets showcased in April, as well. First taking the stage in 1981, the Baton Rouge Blues Festival is one of the oldest blues gatherings in America. It honors the legends of homegrown artists like Slim Harpo, Whisperin' Smith, Guitar Kelly, Schoolboy Cleve, Chewin' Gum Johnson and Raful Neal. This family-friendly, one-day festival also features rising newcomers carrying on the tradition. Lucky groovers can enjoy a full range of Southern, juke joint cuisine, including red beans and rice, fried chicken, jambalaya and bluesman Chicago Al’s hotdogs.

Johnny B. also played some fine country music. The month of May brings the three-day, Bayou Country Superfest to Baton Rouge, featuring Reba, George Strait, Luke Bryan, Hunter Hayes and many more. Organized and operated by the team behind the internationally famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival—a.k.a., Jazz Fest—the Country Superfest is a candidate for one of the best country and western music gatherings in the world.  As Hayes said he did, all performers dig deep when they play Louisiana.  
Plaquemines Parish takes visitors in another direction and to a bit different, Gulf culture. Though fishing and hunting are big throughout Louisiana, they are this parish’s lifeblood. Fishing rodeos are a staple here, and they provide a strong experience of our Gulf culture past, present and future. Here visitors will really go casual and downhome in the state dubbed “Sportsman’s Paradise.” The warmth viewers get from Duck Dynasty? That’s what everyone feels at a Plaquemines Parish fishing tournament.  Needless to say, enjoying the seafood makes diners happy, happy, happy.

Contemplate then, attending April’s Crawfish Boil-Off and May’s Plaquemines Parish Seafood Festival. For the former, held at historic Fort Jackson, contestants and teams compete for the best crawfish recipe. Festivalgoers pick the winners. The latter, four-day celebration takes the fun to another level. Along with fresh Louisiana seafood cooked in all our region’s special ways, this fest offers several entertainment stages and carnival rides. For broiled and BBQ oysters to live for, take in Croatian night. Yes, turns out the Croats were instrumental in developing our seafood industry. A portion of the profits from this festival goes to children’s causes, such as buying Christmas toys. The Boil-Off helps support volunteer firefighters, including their fire safety programs in the schools.

In town, visitors should head out (take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar) to Audubon Park and the city’s famous zoo. Early March brings Soul Fest to New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo.  Perhaps the city’s largest celebration of African-American history, the family-oriented Soul Fest features the city’s best jazz, rhythm & blues and gospel artist. That means the best in the world. Children will love the zoo, as well as the Kid’s Cultural Tent. Both March and April bring a Twilight Trek. These tours guided by a torch-bearing naturalist offer a unique evening view into the worlds of these animals. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner and enjoy the evening capped by roasted marshmallows and an animal guest.  

Mother’s Day at the zoo is always a special occasion. New Orleans’ own rhythm & blues legend, Queen of Soul Irma Thomas, holds her annual concert honoring moms, their moms and theirs. The effervescent Irma’s a great-grandmother herself and sings up one of those only-in-New-Orleans experiences.

Whether festival visitors enjoyed jazz, blues or rhythm and blues, Cajun, zydeco or swamp pop, they can take the music home by stopping and shopping at the city’s unparalleled Louisiana Music Factory. Its vast, two stories hold treasure after treasure for the music lover, from vintage jazz to the latest local releases. The knowledgeable staff will offer any guidance needed.  Live, local performers often gig here during store hours; check out the Factory’s website to combine your shopping with taking in the band.

For where to get more information, check our listings.

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15 Feb 2014

By TRAVELHOST Contributing Writer