Introduction by Kathy Bradshaw
There's not really any such thing as "festival season" in New Orleans anymore. Festivals are held all year long, and plenty of them. And most people think that's a good thing. Any excuse to party, get out, listen to some music, and eat some good grub—no matter the theme. Love Cheez Whiz? Let's have a Cheez Whiz Fest! Construction on Bourbon Street? That seems fest-worthy as well. But, it just might be true that you can have too much of a good thing. Landon Murray looks at our festival-crazed city and wonders if we're not going overboard. Are we on festival overkill? Let's take a break from our coolers, foldable chairs, and fried okra for a minute, and examine: when it comes to festivals, how much is too much?
A little over a year ago, some friends and I were on our way to a local festival. Tummies were empty, drinks were in hand, and appetites were being prepared for disintegration. Eventually, drinks emptied into stomachs and heat began to overcome most of my group. One thing that didn't happen on that fateful day was—you guessed it—getting some festival food. The lines were severely long, with some people waiting in the same spot for hours. Sure, the sounds of local musicians were a nice distraction, but we weren't there for that. We were there for fried goodness.
I later learned a few things from the talkative folks meandering through the fest:
Some people waited hours for food. Others, like my friends, gave up after 45 minutes of non-eating events. As with some of the more popular local fests, thousands were forced to leave without the greasy residue of festival grub glistening off their fingertips. For me, the highlight of that day came afterwards with the delicious greasiness I enjoyed later at the Ideal Mart next to Bayou St. John.
To be fair, this and many other festivals were drastically improved the next year, as organizers took into consideration any difficulties and made appropriate changes. And obviously, the huge crowds only confirm that many people are fest-aholics.
When I think about it, it seems obvious that a place as glorious and fun-filled as New Orleans needs a multitude of things to do for the unrelenting throngs of tourists that grace our lovely city for some rest, relaxation, and good food. Especially the good food. Many of these festivals are huge for both our residents and tourists. I know artists from all areas of creativity who thrive during these events, often selling more things than you can imagine, and hoping for one more good weekend before the city inevitably slows down during the dog days of July, August, and September. These can be good things, but I must ask the question: Do we have a festival problem?
The answer is: probably. Every year, we have an Oyster Festival in June—which is akin to Boston having a snowball festival in August. And there are a hundred more things of this nature.
Take the Beignet Fest, for instance. We love beignets here. They're a massive part of the food culture, which is understandable. What's not understood is why we need an entire event centered around something that's as easy to track down in New Orleans as a Saints jersey. Are people just that lazy that they can't find beignets all year, or is it just throwing a party for the sake of throwing a party?
Also, isn't New Orleans as a whole more interesting than any other place in terms of culture? We don't need these things for people as much as we think. New Orleanians have been marching to their own beat for hundreds of years without needing a seafood festival to make us remember that, hey, we like seafood! With the way things are, if you told me that Andrew Jackson and other prominent NOLA residents threw fancy hat festivals during the time when fancy hats were a thing, I'd believe it.
Looking at the New Orleans festivals calendar, you can see that in Orleans Parish alone this year, we have over 130 festivals or big events happening. Now, some of these are major music festivals (Voodoo, Jazz Fest, Buku, and Essence), and while these events are targeted more toward certain groups of people, many of these other festivals are for a wide range of people looking to get hold of whatever novelty each fest has to offer.
The problem here in town is similar to that of music festivals nationwide. Since the early days, Coachella, Bonnaroo, and a few others have been mainstays, but thousands of other festivals have popped up all over the country. Some thrive, others drown out and fade pretty quickly due to the high number of options for festival-goers. We won't be delving into that terrain extensively, but by and large, New Orleans and the rest of the country seem to have a festival bubble that could soon implode under the weight of so many different options.
The truth is, we love a good festival here; it's a way of life for us. But, the question is, do we really need all these different things? What happens when our thirst for events gets to the point where we're having Saints-themed festivals during the offseason, or we have a pothole festival in every part of the city and make fruity drinks that we drink out of the rubble from our streets? And what of all the others that are going to be organized because it's seen as a surefire way to make money and give everyone the good time they're so eager for in New Orleans? The impact remains to be seen. And while the big-time, older, entrenched festivals aren't going anywhere, what does this mean for a city whose festival schedule is saturated with literally twice as many events as there are weeks in the year?
All of these aren't going to last, and perhaps that's just what needs to be if we want to have quality events instead of packing something in every week in order to celebrate—oh, I don't know—po-boys of all things (which, of course, are also readily available at dozens of places throughout our area). It should be quality over quantity, and I think people forget that. Survival of the fittest is the name of the game, and if these events can sustain themselves and truly bring something unique and rare to our Crescent City, then I'm all for it. But, next time, let's ask ourselves if we need all these festivals for things that are already commonplace here in town, or if we're just that desperate for things to constantly stimulate us.