by will Sentell
Capitol news bureau
October 29, 2012
Festivals, fairs and other events are happening all over Baton Rouge this weekend, mostly because the LSU football team has a rare open date on its schedule.
Once organizers see which weekend the team has a bye, the events calendar explodes.
“It shows the influence of LSU football,” said John Bennett, principal of St. Aloysius School.
The annual St. Aloysius Parish Fair is being held this weekend to take advantage of the Tigers’ brief break.
The Louisiana Book Festival will feature more than 140 authors and panelists.
But generating a good turnout — up to 25,000 people are expected — includes trying to hold the event on an open date in LSU’s football season, said Jacques Berry, communications director for Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
Berry said while fall festival season is in full swing in much of the state, LSU football dictates the best time to hold events in Baton Rouge.
The book celebration takes place on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the State Capitol, the State Library of Louisiana and Louisiana State Museum.
Other happenings driven in part by the football schedule include Hollydays, which lasts from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Baton Rouge River Center and may draw 25,000 over three days for shopping, food and entertainment.
The Baton Rouge Halloween Parade, which takes place downtown, lasts from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“The LSU off weekend is when you have weddings and family events and what have you,” said Paul Arrigo, president and chief executive officer of Visit Baton Rouge. “We are coming off two LSU victories and everybody feels good,” Arrigo said.
The bye on the schedule is the only one for the team between Sept. 1 and Nov. 23.
That means organizers of parades and the like have just one chance to play host without the inevitable distraction of how the team is faring, especially with a 7-1 record and a No. 6 ranking in two key polls.
Competing with a home game is next to impossible, especially for showdowns like next Saturday’s game with Alabama that could have well lure more than 100,000 people into and near Tiger Stadium.
Even road games complicate things, either with fans following the team on the road or hosting game-watching events at their homes or elsewhere.
And since the SEC championship game will be on Dec. 1 in Atlanta — always a goal — Saturday marks one of the last days of the year where friends and family can gather without getting embroiled in a football frenzy or the Christmas holidays.
Even the team has Saturday and Sunday off, and some players will return home for short visits, according to LSU.
St. Aloysius’ Bennett said his school is already looking at next year’s calendar in hopes of finding an open football date to hold its 2013 fair,
“It is a major, major factor,” he said.
After all, organizers are trying to lure families to the event on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for rides, bingo and food.
Bennett noted that, in his parish and elsewhere, lots of people plan their weekends around LSU football, not just the game itself. “They are preoccupied, our fair workers, our parents and parishoners,” he said.
Allie Wester, who operates Weddings by Allie LLC., said she will be working two weddings this weekend and, if she had the ability, could have had 10 on the calendar because of demand sparked in large part by LSU’s open date.
Wester said brides often make their plans around the football season. “The second the LSU schedule comes out they all go for the bye week,” she said.
Some with a fall date in mind opt for Friday evening ceremonies.
Others do so in August — despite the heat and hurricane season — to get around football.
Sometimes televisions appear at wedding receptions when conflicts are impossible to avoid.
Wester recalled the time that a couple from outside of Baton Rouge invited 200 people to a plantation wedding.
About 80 guests showed up.
The culprit? An LSU football game.