Lafayette downtown packed for Festival International

Lafayette’s historic downtown area is transformed this weekend for Festival International de Louisiane.

Thousands of people, such as JeriKay Nelson, packed downtown Friday night for the festivities. Nelson, an Iota native, has been attending the festival long before her 6-year-old daughter Seraphim came into the fold.

“She’s been to every festival since she was 3 months old,” Nelson said. “She’ll keep coming every year. You can’t get more family friendly than this.”

Nelson, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette alumna, said the combination of free admission and music from around the world is “pretty unbeatable.”

“The music from around the world is priceless,” she said.

“There are so many volunteers around to help it run smoothly. The entire downtown area takes part in making it special.”

More than 400 musicians will perform for an estimated 400,000 people throughout the five-day event — an annual fixture in Lafayette since 1986.

Friday night’s headliners were the Pine Leaf Boys, from south Louisiana, and Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, from the West African nation.

The festival runs through Sunday.

“It’s is really amazing to have music like this in Lafayette,” Nelson said. “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are world famous. It is such a treasure to come and experience this.”

Vendors in the Pavilion de Cuisine, such as Bon Creole and Antlers, serve dishes such as pulled pork nachos, sausage jambalaya, crawfish spinach and cheese bread bowls.

Festivalgoers can enjoy craft beer and mixed drinks by purchasing tickets from one of the more than 2,000 festival volunteers.

Businesses downtown, such as Marley’s, also open their doors to festivalgoers who desire a break from outdoors. Kevin Duhon, a senior at UL-Lafayette, said the festival is a welcomed addition to his normal weekend routine.

“I’d probably come to Marley’s anyway tonight,” Duhon said. “Festival just brings in bigger crowds and more fun. I love downtown, and I love Festival.”

Aside from the food and music, arts and crafts from around the world are available for purchase. There is also a newly added free Wi-Fi hot spot provided by LUS Fiber and TV5MONDE where festivalgoers can stay connected.

Nelson said she doesn’t see herself getting tired of Festival anytime soon.

“It seems to get better every year,” she said. “I am already looking forward to next year.”