Festival International wraps up on a high note

“I love how people say, ‘Happy Festival,’ like Merry Christmas. It really is like a holiday.” Chanel Gaude, of Lafayette

The streets of downtown Lafayette overflowed Sunday with spirited festivalgoers, endless Cajun cuisine and cultural sounds from around the world as Festival International de Louisiane wrapped up its fifth and final day.

“This festival is the best weekend on the planet,” said Manny Fuentes, longtime festival attendee and Lafayette native.

“You don’t find a better weekend where music is free, people are friendly, there is food, beverages and a love of life,” he said. “It shows the best of south Louisiana and the best of the world in one five-day span. It’s like taking a vacation around the world without leaving home.”

The free music and arts festival, which celebrates all walks of life from across the globe, has been a major part of the Hub City for 28 years.

“I’ve told my family that during the five days of Festival, no one is allowed to die, give birth or get married,” Fuentes said. “Nothing trumps this weekend.”

More than 20 acts took to the stages on the final day of Festival International, including Canadian hip-hop band Radio Radio, New Orleans’ own Funky Meters and “Ragganga” musician BélO of Haiti.

“It’s a good experience and a big opportunity not only for me, but for my country,” said BélO as he spoke in The Chat Room about performing at the festival. “I’m here not just on my name. I’m here to promote Haiti.”

The Chat Room,in a front lobby of the Lafayette Science Museum, allows festival fans to personally meet and greet their favorite artists.

“To me, this is something important to share with people,” BélO said. “Life is sharing.”

Sunday’s festivities began with an 11 a.m. French Catholic Mass at the Scène Chevron Heritage stage with The Rev. Bill Melancon, of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Erath.

Another special event, the Allons Danser et Manger Brunch, was held at Artmosphere Bistro from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring live music by Mark Meaux & The Zordico Stompers and Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole.

“This festival is really exciting because it’s a celebration of people from outside cultures coming to Lafayette,” festival volunteer Terry Dugas said, “but at the same time, I think it’s a chance for people in Lafayette to come together and enjoy themselves.”

As he signed in volunteers at his tent, Dugas said he thinks this year’s festival has garnered more people than previous years.

“Festival International seems to get a lot more people, and it’s a lot more culturally diverse,” said artist Jake Rhoads at his craft tent. “It’s really cool to go to one stage and hear some Hispanic music and then go to another stage and hear country.”

Rhoads, who creates handmade tiles set in mosaic form, said this is his first time attending Festival International and the experience has been great.

“We’re all very blessed and fortunate to have an event like this,” said festivalgoer Gaywynn Vuijsters, of Lafayette. “It’s always so wonderful to come out and enjoy the music and wonderful food.”

Another festival attendee and Lafayette native Chanel Gaude compared Festival International to a holiday.

“I love how people say, ‘Happy Festival,’ like Merry Christmas,” she said. “It really is like a holiday.”