GONZALES — When Sarah Eastridge was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a 4-month-old baby, her grandfather, a drummer in a swamp pop music band, decided to contribute what he could to help her live as long as possible — he organized a music festival to fund research to find a cure for the life-threatening condition.
Now in its 15th year, the Swamp Pop Music Festival, which kicked off Friday and ended Saturday night, raises about $100,000 each year to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, said Erin Achberger, executive director of Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Baton Rouge.
“I’m glad that my Poppa started it so I could grow up and have grandkids of my own,” said Eastridge, now 14 years old and a student at St. Amant High School.
Thanks to donations such as these, researchers are now “so close to discovering a cure,” said Eastridge’s mother, Aimee Webb.
The funding has enabled medical breakthroughs to come a long way from the 1950s, when a baby diagnosed with cystic fibrosis was not expected to live past age 10. Now, the median life expectancy is in the mid-30s, according to information from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Achberger said the event would never have been possible if not for its more than 200 volunteers.
“This is grassroots fundraising at its finest,” she said.
The two-day festival, held at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, featured a jambalaya cook-off, a motorcycle poker run and seven swamp pop and zydeco bands: Cliff Nickens; Kenny Cornett & Killin Time; Tommy G & Stormy Weather; Kenny Fife & The Bac Trac Band; Junior LaCrosse & Sumtin Sneaky; Warren Storm, Willie Tee & Cypress with special guest Tommy McLain; and TK Huelin & GG Shinn.
People of all ages came from all over Louisiana to enjoy the music and dance.
“It’s nice because there’s really no places to go to listen to this type of music without smoke, and here, the kids can get into it too,” said Cindy Guillott, 53, of New Iberia.
The History Channel’s “Swamp People” cast members Austyn Yoches, 21, and Blake McDonald, 25, sat at a table meeting fans, signing autographs and selling merchandise to benefit the cause.
“This music is some good stuff,” Yoches said.
“When you raised on this music, ain’t got no choice but to love it. Makes you want to tap your toes.”
The three-hour jambalaya cook-off was a popular event, attracting more than 80 entrants who each paid $150 to compete for the title of the best.
After being judged, their jambalaya was then sold at a booth to raise more money.
Even though all competitors were distributed the same ingredients, “no two jambalayas are ever going to be the same,” said Wally Taillon, president of the Jambalaya Festival Association, which organized the cook-off.
Two-time jambalaya world champion Tee Wayne Abshire, who runs a Cajun catering company in St. Amant, said the trick was in the seasoning and the timing, especially in cooking the rice and the onions. He said he thought his 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, who formed
a competing team against him, had outdone him in Saturday’s competition. “It feels good because he’s got two world titles, so
it’s cool,” said his daughter, Mary Abshire.