40th annual Folk Festival spotlights rich, diverse culture of Louisiana


By Dr. Shane Rasmussen

Photos by Chris Reich, NSU Photo Services


NATCHITOCHES – The audience at the 40th annual Natchitoches-Northwestern State University Folk Festival held on July 26-27 was entertained and educated about the rich and diverse cultural offerings of the state. The Festival featured traditional Louisiana foods, Kidfest activities, music, traditional crafts, narrative sessions, musical informances, and cultural exhibits. This year’s Festival theme “Vive la Louisiane!” was a great success, with a very happy audience.


The Festival opened with a rousing dance, beginning with Cajun dance lessons, followed by Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue, and the night closed out with Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band. Side stage performances included Natchitoches gospel group Joyful Sounds, 50 Man Machine, which includes NSU faculty Paul Forsyth, Collier Hyams, and Oliver Molina, and an open jam with Max & Marcy, Ed Huey, and Cane Mutiny.


Saturday’s events included performances in Prather Coliseum by 50 Man Machine, Creole la la with Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys, the Louisiane Vintage Dancers, Brandy Roberts, the Rayo Brothers, Tab Benoit, Jamie Berzas & the Cajun Tradition Band, the Stewart Family and Friends Bluegrass Band, line dance lessons by the Cajun French Music Association Dance Troupe, the Canneci N’de Band of Lipan Apache, zydeco dance lessons by Avila Kahey, Wayne & Same Ol’ 2 Step, Hardrick Rivers and the Rivers Revue Band, Celtic Music with the Kitchen Session of Baton Rouge and a jam session with Max and Marcy.


In addition to stage performances there were narrative sessions and music informances, including conversations about American songwriting, culture & costumes of 19th century Louisiana, Tab Benoit’s The Voice of the Wetlands Fondoution, and the musical journey of Vanessa Niemann (aka Gal Holiday). Also featured was a music informance by Tab Benoit. Outdoor activities included demonstrations by the Central Louisiana Dutch Oven Cookers, the Red River Smiths, the Southern Stock Dog Association, and Wash Day, presented by the West Baton Rouge Museum. This year the Festival continued a series of free workshops for Festival attendees. Festival goers attended a Cajun accordion workshop by Jamie Berzas and Bruce Daigrepont.


The annual Louisiana State Fiddle Championship was also held on Saturday in the Magale Recital Hall as part of the Festival. Fiddle Championship judges included Steve Birdwell, Steve Harper, Henry Hemple, and Clancey Stewart. The new Louisiana Grand Champion is Ron Yule of DeRidder. Second place winner was Joe Suchanek of Merryville, with Owen Meche of Arnauldville placing third. Meche also took first place in the 21 and under championship division.

Suchanek took first in the 60 and up championship division, with Yule coming in second, Birgit Murphy of Opelousas in third, Mark Young of Balise in fourth, Wilfred Luttrell of DeRidder in fifth, and Ron Pace of Alexandria in sixth. Luttrell and Yule also took first place in the twin fiddles competition.


As the new Louisiana State Fiddle champion, Yule also performed on the main stage in Prather Coliseum. Dr. Lisa Abney managed the fiddle championship. Dr. Susan Roach from Louisiana Tech University emceed the championship.


Four musicians and a renowned filé maker were inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center’s Hall of Master Folk Artists. Inductees included Louisiana Music Hall of Famer Tab Benoit, who also served as honorary Festival Chair, Cajun musicians Jamie Berzas and Bruce Daigrepont, filé maker John Oswald Colson, and country singer Vanessa Niemann.

Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center, led the induction ceremony, assisted by State Representative Kenny Cox and Dustin Fuqua, Chief of Resource Management at Cane River Creole National Historical Park. In addition, the honorary award of Folklife Angel was given to long-time Festival crew chief James Christopher Callahan, an NSU alumnus.

In addition to 4 book signings and 8 exhibits by such groups as state parks and archives, over 70 craftspeople displayed their traditional work on Saturday. These craftspeople demonstrated and discussed their work with the Festival patrons. Craftspeople displayed accordion making, beadwork, baskets, Czech Pysanky eggs, filé making, flintknapping, folk art, knives, music instruments, quilting, pottery, spinning & weaving, tatting, walking sticks, whittling and needlework, wood carving, and more. 8 food vendors provided a cornucopia of traditional Louisiana foods to the Festival audience.


Support for the Louisiana State Fiddle Championship and the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival was provided by grants from the Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc., the Louisiana Division of the Arts Decentralized Arts Fund Program, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.

Much needed support also came from generous sponsorships from Acme Refrigeration of Baton Rouge, C&H Precision Machining, Chili’s, City Bank & Trust, the City of Natchitoches, Cleco, John Clifton Conine, Atty; CP-Tel, Domino’s Pizza, the Donut Hole, El Patron, Family Medical Clinic, Grayson’s Barbecue, Hardee’s, the Harrington Law Firm, D. Michael Hayes, Atty; JB & M Enterprises, Jeanne’s Country Garden, La Capitol Federal Credit Union, McCain Auto Supply, Jason O. Methvin, Atty; Morning Star Donuts, the Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, NSU Men’s Basketball, the Pioneer Pub, Pizza Hut, Raising Cane’s, Ronnie’s Auto Glass, Save A Lot, Sonny’s Donuts, Southern Classic Chicken, Natchitoches Super 1 Foods 604 and 613, TOTO, Inc; Trailboss, UniFirst, Walmart, Waste Connections, and Weaver Brothers Land & Timber. In addition, numerous newspapers, online venues, and radio and TV stations assisted the Festival by generously printing articles, airing interviews, free promotional PSAs, and/or participating in on-air ticket giveaways.


The success of the Festival was made possible due to the many volunteers from NSU’s faculty and staff, who gave generously of their time and talents. The Louisiana Folklife Center is grateful to Phyllis Allison, David Antilley, Kay Cavanaugh, Corieana Ceasar, Jason Church, Sherrie Davis, Matt DeFord, Christine Dorribo, Michael Doty, Bruce Dyjack, Alexis Finnie, Ashlee Grayson, Charlotte Grayson, Dr. Hiram F. “Pete” Gregory, Dr. Greg Handel, Wesley Harrell, Jackie Hawkins, Diana Hill, Kristie Hilton, Carla Howell, Leah Jackson, Dr. J. Ereck Jarvis, Melissa Kelly, Suzanne Kucera, Dr. Chris Maggio, Barbara Marr, Terri Marshall, Coach Mike McConathy, Byron McKinney, Valerie Meadows, Gwendolyn Meshell, Dr. Jim Mischler, Melinda Parnell, Julie Powell, Kathy Pylant, Charles Rachal, Chris Reich, Stephanie Stanton, Bethany Straub, Anna Vaughn, Randi Washington, Mary Linn Wernet, David West, Taylor Whitehead, Emily Windham, Dale Wohletz, and Sharon Wolff. NSU students included Francisco Ballestas-Sayas, Caleb Callender, Makayla Fisher, Valentina Herazo-Alvarez, and Ina Sthapit. NSU alumni included Michael Cain, Michael Taylor Dick, Hammond Lake, Greg Lloid, De’Andrea Sanders, and Daniel Thiels. Many thanks are due to the Louisiana Folklife Center staff, including administrative coordinator Shelia Thompson, student workers Macey Boyd, Jalima Diaz, Heather Jones, Caitlin Martin, and Taylor Nichols, and graduate assistants James Harrison and Erica McGeisey.


Thanks also go out to Andy Adkins, Myranda Adkins, Alexandria Arens, Robert D. Bennett, Jennae Biddiscombe, Rebecca Blankenbaker, Derek Boyt, Erin Boyt, Melanie Braquet, Sherry Byers, the Central Louisiana Dutch Oven Cookers, Don Choate, Jr., Catherine Cooper, Hailie Coutee, Helen Dalme, Cameron Davis, Eli Dyjack, Sheila Dyle, Adam Edwards, Justin French, Jennifer Gallien, Reagan Guillory, Grace Hardy, Dr. Don Hatley, Sue Hatley, Lani Hilton, Ed Huey, Peter Jones, Leonard King, Michael King, Abagael Kinney, Dan Martin, Deron McDaniel, Ivan McDaniel, Charity McKinney, Sheila Ogle, Sara Parnell, Kimberly Perry, Audrey Rasmussen, Gidget Rasmussen, Susan Rasmussen, Wyatt Rasmussen, the Red River Sanitors, Sukrit San, Rick Seale, Lorie Speer, Lori Tate, Margaret Thompson, Sara Vaughn, Emily Ware, Briton Welch, Justice Welch, Shirley Winslow, and the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center trustees and officers Derek Booker and Larry Willis.


Natchitoches Area Convention and Visitors Bureau staff members included Arlene Gould, Kelli West, NSU students Anne Cummins and Megan Palmer, and NSU alumna Heather Dougan.

Special thanks go to Craig Routh for his generous permission to use his painting, Dixieland Jazz Fleur-de-Lis, for the Festival t-shirt.