‘Breathtaking’ Festival International draws more than 400,000 visitors

Organizers estimated Festival International de Louisiane attracted at least 400,000 visitors over five days of music, art, food and drink graced by ideal weather interrupted only by a fleeting rain storm on Sunday afternoon.

“As always, Festival was incredible and it was breathtaking,” said festival Executive Director Missy Paschke-Wood. “It’s an honor to bring it to the community.”

The rough estimates of attendance for this year are on par with 2013.

Paschke-Wood said merchandise sales were up this year, but sales of beer and other beverages were down Friday and Saturday, a decline that could affect the bottom line of a free festival that depends heavily on drink sales to make ends meet.

“We actually had a pretty significant decrease in beverage sales,” Paschke-Wood said.

She said about 30 percent of the festival’s annual $1.5 million budget comes from beverage sales.

It’s too early to tell precisely how much beverage sales were off, and Paschke-Wood wouldn’t speculate on what’s behind the dip.

The festival has seen declines in beverage sales at its official drink booths in the past that were attributed the growing number of downtown bars and restaurants that also sell drinks during the event.

Despite the big crowds and the easy availability of alcohol, Lafayette Police reported few problems, which is normal for the family-friendly festival, said police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton.

Mouton said officers made about six arrests, mainly related to drunkenness.

“Other than that, the crowds were large, but there were little or no problems,” he said.

This was Paschke-Wood’s first festival as director.

She took the helm in October and said she was overwhelmed with emotion as the massive event got underway.

She recalled going to check on festival volunteers Wednesday as the festival got underway.

“I was greeted by this sea of people in those beautiful blue shirts,” she said of the army of volunteers decked out in special festival T-shirts. “It gave me goose bumps.”

Paschke-Wood said she and her staff will take a little breather, then dive head first into planning for next year’s festival.

She said organizers have already been working with international acts that book U.S. shows more than a year in advance.

“Some 2015 planning is already happening,” she said.