An Insider’s Guide to Festival International
Festival International de Louisiane is set to take over Downtown Lafayette this weekend, converting the city center into a world music mecca like no other. The streets will be packed with throngs of sandal clad weekend warriors—over 300,000 people attend the festival each year, coming from all over the country and around the globe. Everyone knows the bands they want to see and where the stage is, but there’s more to Festival than just the music. This guide to Festival International’s unofficial and off-the-beaten-path events will help you to get the most out of a full week of Downtown festivities.
Step One: Be Prepared
Festival International presents a frenzy of activity and a tangled web of choices: Do I walk three blocks that way to get another bread bowl, or should I head to the main stage early to find a good spot? How do I find a place to relax that’s out of the sun? What do I do after the music ends and I still want to party? By prepping early in the week you will be able to conquer a full day of Festival without breaking a sweat.
Download the app, load up your wristband, and buy the pin.
We cannot recommend enough that you download the Official Festival App and use it to research the bands you want to see. Schedule the shows you can’t miss and leave ample time to pick up drinks and chat with friends as you move from stage to stage.
After you get the app, head to Parish Ink early in the week. They will be dispensing the new RFID wristbands introduced at Festival last year (for a $1 deposit that you will get back). The wristband allows you to load an account balance to use on festival drinks, food, and merchandise. It’s easy to use and prevents you from having to keep track of cash and tickets. Don’t forget to pick up the most important piece of Festival merch while you’re there: your festival pin. Festival is entirely free to attend, so true lovers of the event have embraced the pin as their “ticket” to the festival. Wear it proudly every day you are at the fest. Your purchase helps fuel the event!
Don’t Miss the Weekday Events
By noon on Saturday, Downtown will be fully saturated with festival-goers. If you want to experience the Festival vibes, but prefer a smaller crowd, then hit up these early-week events.
Rêve Coffee Kick-Off
The music officially starts on Wednesday with Steve Riley and Keith Frank both playing the Fais Do Do stage, and to keep things going, we suggest heading to Rêve Coffee’s Festival Kickoff Party at 9:00 PM. They’ll have music by Soul Creole, a band led by Louis Michot, Ashlee Michot, and Corey Ledet that transcends the boundaries between Cajun and Zydeco music.
Blue Moon Rhythms and Roots: Cedric Watson and Wilson Savoy
There’s also Blue Moon Saloon’s Rhythms and Roots Series, which features two bands from Festival’s lineup for a collaborative jam session. The series has a new show every night of Festival, starting on Wednesday with Cedric Watson with Wilson Savoy of the Pine Leaf Boys. Thursday night’s show pairs Lafayette natives, GIVERS with Gato Preto, an afro-futurist electronic dance group that is sure to be a huge hit at festival.
Get There Early
Once the weekend arrives, Festival becomes an all day and all night affair. Only the most hardened party animals can survive the endurance test of getting Downtown for the first show and grooving until the end of the last after party. Our suggestion is to find a stretch of time that works best for you and try not to over do it. There’s no shortage of fun to be had for early birds or night owls alike.
Bach Lunch at Parc International starts things off on Friday morning with a performance by the The Flying Balalaika Brothers. The lunchtime event is an early chance to try food items from some of the Festival vendors. Antoni’s Café, Chris’ PoBoys, Hub City Diner, Joey’s Specialty Foods, and Roly Poly will all be serving at this Bach Lunch.
Courir du Festival
Runners will love the Courir du Festival 5K on Saturday morning. The relatively new tradition for Festival is the perfect way to burn some bread bowl calories and an opportunity to get Downtown early before the crowds.
The FIL Brunch at Rêve on Sunday will have music by Rayo Brothers, Will Payne Harrison, and Sara Douga. Plus you can’t beat a cup of the freshest roasted coffee in Lafayette to start a day of Festival off right.
Stay All Night
There’s more than a handful of live shows and after parties once the stages shut down at Festival. Here are our picks for the ones that seem the most exciting and unique out of the bunch.
Clandestine Silent Disco
Clandestine Collective has thrown Friday night after-parties during Festival weekend for a couple years now. Last year they brought Mannie Fresh and before that DJ Soul Sister from New Orleans. This year they’re doing something unique by hosting a Silent Disco at Lounge Gallery next door to Tsunami. Three different DJs will play to a crowd of headphone wearing dancers. The headsets allow you to switch from one DJ to another throughout the event. Dancers can sync up with friends or find their own vibe.
Daiquiri Queens at the Superette
For a more traditional scene on Friday night, you can get your two-step on at the Acadian Superette. They’ll be serving up late night food with music by The Daiquiri Queens and Mike Broussard & Nu Edition Zydeko.
Blue Moon Rhythms and Roots: Saturday & Sunday
On Saturday night, Blue Moon Saloon’s Rhythms & Roots Series combines NOLA’s Flow Tribe with Doctor Nativo a festival newcomer described as “Mayan Reggae Cumbia.” Another Saturday show, The Has Beans, Terry & the Zydeco Bad Boys, and Chubby Carrier will bring hot Swamp Pop and Zydeco jams to the stage at Rock’n’Bowl.
If you’re still ready to party after the festival closes on Sunday night, Blue Moon’s final Rhythm and Roots show features Sweet Crude, Feufollet & Guests for an international jam night.
Find the Hidden Gems and Oases
Downtown is full of surprises during Festival International. There are secret alcoves and pop-up performances that present an opportunity around every corner. “It is the sort of serendipity that festival organizers can’t program per se, but which is key to the spontaneity of the four-day event.” said Philip Gould in 2017 as he reflected on 30 years of photographing the festival.
Parc de Lafayette
Right in the middle of Downtown lies the small Parc de Lafayette, a special oasis for Festival-goers during hot springtime afternoons. The parc is a cut through between Jefferson and the Vermilion parking garage and it is always cool and shaded. It’s the perfect place to take a midday break, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s right next to Wurst Biergarten. This year marks the first year Festival International will have an official stage at the Parc. The Pavillon du Nouveau Brunswick will feature performances by New Brunswick based artists like Lisa LeBlanc, Cy, Les Hôtesses d’Hilaire, and more.
Don’t miss out on the numerous street performances happening throughout the Festival area. Throughout the weekend there will be street music by bands like Soul Express Brass Band and Bagad Plougastell (Breton traditional pipe-band). Non-musical street performances include La Famille Couillon and their larger than life puppetry displays.
The Kabuki Dancers, Lafayette’s own talented breakdance crew will perform on Thursday evening at Parc de Lafayette and again on Saturday at the Scene des Jeunes children’s area. These guys have been breakdancing at Festival for 15 years now and are without a doubt one of the best kept secrets.
Pavy Art Studio
Art lovers and cravers of air conditioning can accomplish both feats by visiting Acadiana Center for the Arts and taking in the Karen DeClouet and Francis Pavy exhibits. Pavy is also opening a new studio in the Gordon building lobby, right across from ACA on Vermilion and Jefferson Street. The shop opens Wednesday, and will be worth checking out for a chance to pick up prints and other items from this acclaimed Lafayette-based artist.