Lafayette's Festival Acadiens et Créoles is almost 50. Here's how the iconic festival came to be

WaTeasa Freeman
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

One of Lafayette's most popular festivals is celebrating 48 years of Cajun and creole music. Festival Acadiens et Créoles is making its first spring appearance in over 45 years, celebrating the perseverance and passion among Cajun and creole people.

The festival grew out of movement to preserve culture

Throughout the 1960s and '70s, counterculture movements grew in the United States. Some of the most known aspects of these movements are Hippie movement, Progg, Stonewall and the civil rights movement. 

In Louisiana, there was a push to reclaim the French language. 

Ready for some music?:Here's what you can expect at Festivals Acadiens et Créoles

Related:Love Cajun and Creole music? Festivals Acadiens et Créoles returns in March to Girard Park

Following the Civil War, a law was passed prohibiting writing laws and government policies in French.  French was not allowed to be taught in many public schools across the state either. These laws pushed the French culture of the state underground for decades.

Although it was not proper to speak it in public, many communities continued passing the tradition throughout generations. A major form of this preservation came through music. 

Cajun and zydeco music use French in the lyrics and became a way many people in south Louisiana began learning and preserving the language. These forms of music were normally performed in dance halls after dark to an adult crowd.  

In 1968, the legislature established the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) to “preserve, promote, and develop Louisiana's French and Creole culture, heritage, and language.” This allowed French to be spoken in public places and schools by law.

CODOFIL chairman James Domengeaux worked hard to undo the stigma placed around French in Louisiana. One way he decided to promote this was through a concert celebrating Cajun Music. 

Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Girard Park Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011, in Lafayette.

The 'chance' that started it all

March 26, 1974, at the Blackham Coliseum a three-hour concert was held featuring premier artists at the time. Barry Ancelet was working as an intern for CODOFIL during the first concert. 

"We took a chance that Tuesday night," Ancelet explains. "There were about 10,000 to 12,000 people packed in the Blackham Coliseum; we apparently touched a nerve. It was pouring down raining. They came anyway.  So apparently, we did something right."

He explains that for most people attending this was the first time hearing the music outside of dance halls, which made many restless because they wanted to dance. For the artists, the first time many of them had been on an actual stage with full lights and sound. At the first concert artist such as Dewey Belffa and the Belfa brothers, Dennis McGee, Clifton Chenier and others.

Grammy winner Chubby Carrier, right, jams with Judith Seid on rubboard at the 2018 Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Girard Park.

Riding off the success of that concert, a second one was organized for April 1975.

Cajun music was also experiencing a renaissance around this time with new artists and sub-genres popping up. 

"Our goal was never to be the cultural police," Ancelet says. "We aren't here to tell you what is or isn't Cajun or creole. We are here to celebrate as a people and want everyone to feel welcome."

How the concert expanded to what it is today

In 1976, Ancelet moved to Indiana to attend graduate school and this was the first year a concert was not held in the spring. When he returned that fall, they were able to host the annual event the night of Halloween. The next year, an agreement was made by organizers with the Cajun music festival, Louisiana Craft Festival, Native Crafts Festival and the Bayou Food Festival to host all the events in the same location at the same time. 

In 1980, the name officially became Festival Acadiens et Créoles to acknowledge all the festivals that are now housed in one. Around that time, it also grew from a two-day event into the three-day event it is today. As time has progressed, the festival has grown even larger. This is the first year two festivals will be held in the same year. Festival Acadiens et Créoles wanted to make up for 2021 since there was no concert. 

Music that started out as a way to fight the system and preserve history is now proudly celebrated across the state.

Almost 50 years later, Festival Acadiens et Créoles still stands on their original goals to undo the stigma of French language and celebrate Cajun culture, as of now they show no signs of slowing down 

Connect with WaTeasa Freeman by email or on Twitter @wateasaf