Jean-Paul Villere: The Slippery Slope of Festival Season

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Jean-Paul Villere

As the New Orleans metro area rises ever more steadily in popularity in terms of viability and visibility (hello yet another Super Bowl and mostly uneventful Mardi Gras season) as well as the 2012 numbers-driven title of fastest growing American city (somehow when I mention this in passing conversation nowadays a lot of people missed this), integral components to our cultural seasons just might need to be kept in check.  In other words, are we nearing a tipping point of over abundant festivals this or any other spring?  Or as I’ve come to call it, will we soon experience Fest Fest?  And should we?  And if we do, are we in danger of becoming a mockery of ourselves?  Maybe yes, maybe no.

We certainly run the further risk of more widely viewed outsider publications slapping less than flattering labels on us a la Travel and Leisure’s assessment of the population being the strangest.  No thanks.  Not all press is good press, mind you.  Case in point.  New Orleans flies its own flag it’s true, but then so does every other ‘burg no matter how similar it may be to many other destinations.  Surely the Ravens’ Baltimore homecoming post-win was very different than our Lombardi Gras.  And so what.  Maybe they had a parade, maybe they didn’t.  It doesn’t make us or them amazing, awful, lame or whatever adjective may objectively apply.

So here we sit about to shake off the cool at the edge of spring and down the road many a distraction lay ahead.  The tried and true JazzFest, French Quarter Fest two weeks before, and Wednesdays on the Square monster 12 week run starting March 6th are all abuzz with fanfare and big plans.  Spring does have a way of making the indigenous excited, anywhere you go.  And then there are the, shall we say, second tier fests including the Memorial Day Weekend Greek Fest, the yet to be determined Tomato Fest, the upcoming Los Islenos, and who can forget the Ponchatoula Strawberry Fest “competing” datewise anyway with FQ Fest or mid May Bayou Boogaloo?

But wait!  There’s more!!  Beer Fest returns this year along with the landmark Tennessee Williams Fest, Soul Fest, and Oyster Fest!!  Yes, these all really exist.  For a mostly comprehensive look into this season and beyond spring, does a decent job, however ( * cough cough * ) Freret Fest is oddly absent from their queue.  But you see what I mean?  Oysters, tomatoes, strawberries, street names and on.  It’s a little exhaustive.  We could always add in Faulkner, Twain, okra, and blueberries too, but we haven’t yet – or that I know of.  Who knows what the future holds?  Again, the danger I feel becomes basically an excuse to assemble a stage, sell beer and shill logo merch beside artists’ tents long on fleur de lis and kooky necktie wearing cartoon alligators.

Maybe all of this is from where we’ll never return: a festival of festivals.  And it’s OK I suppose, as long as it remains appropriate to the region.  In that vein, I remain unconvinced of events like say Chewbacchus, despite growing popularity or their square-peg, round-hole approach to Carnival, bearing any – and I mean any – relevance to the Crescent City; of course I realize I’m in the minority here, but whatever.  Does that make me old school, old guard, or just unplugged?  Meh, who cares?  Appropriate just may be irrelevant as the masses’ responsiveness will dictate the acceptability of Chewbacchus or any other gathering, celebratory culture, fruit, vegetable or indispensable regional culinary delight.

DobergeFest, anyone?  Sign me up!

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

16 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Villere: The Slippery Slope of Festival Season

  1. Indeed, it’s gotten excessive, but it also keeps tourists here nearly year-round so I won’t complain. This is what Nola does.

    I pick my battles with fests (and all other events). You can’t do it all, especially not with little kids that usually can’t take all the stimulation. We went to so many parades during carnival season that by Lundi Gras my kids begged to stay home and watch movies. We do about one fest per month during spring, but otherwise we miss out on other things like 5k races, family dinners, or lying around in the park on a blanket doing absolutely nothing! The trick is to learn to say no, and to not feel like you’re missing out when your social media fills up with other people’s photos of the event you turned down. Though it’s heresy to say it in this town, there’s more to life than festivals!

  2. I am always happy to read or hear about MY city, in a positive way, that is. As a long-time resident I get to see various kinds of people, and some from all over the world. Many of our tourists are wonderful ladies and gentlemen, but some, unfortunately, buy into the notion that New Orleans is a place where one can do anything at anytime to anyone. Over the past few years I have seen my neighborhood, The Marigny, become “Bourbon Street East”. With the welcoming of so many visitors comes the complaints of boorish behavior. All it takes is a few vulgar and inconsiderate idiots to ruin everyone else’s good time. The fact remains that some people can drink (a lot) and still maintain some sense of decorum. Some can’t. As a admitted “bar fly” I am amazed at the few incidents of awful behavior I see in my routine habitats. Everyone that works in the bars are to be congratulated on how they can handle any potential trouble. The casual drinker may not be aware of how attentive these professionals are and how they can control, to an amazing extent, everything that goes on around them. Many of my best friends work in bars and I know that it takes only one jerk to mess up their evening. The combination of booze, loud music, interaction between males and females, all combine to make a potential “situation”.
    What I have just described is what REALLY goes on during special events, not to mention the day-to-day business of running a bar. Not everyone is locked into meetings, conferences, or obligations to the company that perhaps sent them here. After the business part is over, its time to “hit the bars and restaurants (that have bars, too)” for a good time to loosen up and relax. Much of MY interaction with visitors is extremely pleasant and I really enjoy giving out information about places to go and things to do in New Orleans. Every one of us is an “ambassador” for our city. I am gratified to hear some guy or gal from far away say, “This is the BEST time we’ve had in YEARS!” Makes me “proud to call it home”.

    • Great observations, Best. I’m glad to see someone express their frustrations in a concerned but still “appreciative for their tourism” way. Well done.

      • Oh my. Are your saying that with every negative, but true comment, people, must end up mentioning a positive about NOLA?

        Well, guess what? Residents and visitors have been doing that for decades and NOLA is getting more crime ridden and depopulated every day cause businesses don’t want to stay and residents can’t afford to pay their bills.

        At the rate you mention positives, one day NOLA will be a place that says, “There really is no more NOLA left under 200k population, but the party was good while it lasted!”

        See how I said a positive at the end?

        And you can even make a bumper sticker so the few people remaining in NOLA can feel good about themselves.

    • If you say “every one of us is an ‘ambassador’ for our city, what about the constant stream of carjackers, robbers, welfare queens and baby daddys? Are they also “ambassadors” for NOLA?
      What about the “alcoholics”? Are they also “ambassadors”?
      The impression most visitors still get is that NOLA is still the “Big Easy”. And it’s also the reason visitors to NOLA are still VISITORS to NOLA, as opposed to becoming residents.

        • My husband and I moved here in December. Maybe we are still in the honeymoon period with the city because we are looking forward to the festivals.

          We’re also part of a blog for new residents in New Orleans ( and festivals and events are popular topics on the site and offline. When we get together, we talk about which festivals are good and which ones don’t live up to the hype.

          You don’t have to go to a festival just because it is happening. Good advice, Pistolette, about learning to say no. But, we like the options festivals give us. They are built-in things to do in the city. And “things to do” heavily influenced our decision to live in New Orleans.

        • If this is actually true and NOLA is growing, why did Xavier Prep (founded in 1915), announce that it is closing its doors next year?

          If people are moving to New Orleans and it’s the “fastest” growing city, where’s the tax money to fix the street lights and streets?

          Oh, that’s right, NOTICE how its people who DO NOT have children or have children of an age where they can be badly influenced by the “Big Easy”, alcoholic nature of the city, schools and lifestyle.

          It’s those who have have really young kids, under 11 or those kids grown up (over 18-21), or retired that think NOLA is great.

          Basically those that have NO MORE PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY or the typical “raising-a-family” goals in life.

          When referring to the typical “raising-a-family” goals, that means goals outside those that come to NOLA to save the city from itself, its many drug addictions and big easy ways, i.e. Teach for America, social entrepreneurs, Basically, young professionals with no kids who have 3 free years to spend on attempting to fix NOLA as well as something to put on their resume. They then leave to find a real paying job that can actually pay their bills.

          This is very similar to all news and sports TV newscasters who tell you the news for 3-5 years and then leave New Orleans and Louisiana for a better job and LIFE.

          So while you might see people moving here, you don’t really see, or hear, the many who came to NOLA 1-3 years ago moving out because New Orleans, still, doesn’t have good paying jobs and a safe city. Hence, no net influx and no real gain in annual tax dollars.

      • Obviously we have different ways of seeing and experiencing things. Every city has those negative things you mentioned. I know about all that, but it is not the MAIN thing. As for as the “alcoholics” are concerned, did you mean anybody who drinks? We drinkers meet many of the tourists who also are drinkers and I, for one, enjoy meeting them. And yes, in so doing I AM an ambassador for my city. Not all drinkers, or, for that matter, alcoholics, are abusive, boorish, or negative representatives of New Orleans. The proof (there I go with the puns again) is in the reactions I get from visitors about
        how much they have enjoyed their visit to “The Big Easy”, In addition, MANY of them express a desire to MOVE here. Why? To ENJOY themselves, of course. It is much “easier” to do that in New Orleans. I believe we were put on this planet to be happy, not to be miserable. If we can make someone ELSE happy, if only for a few days, then we have accomplished something good.

        • You say,

          “The proof is in the reactions I get from visitors about how much they have enjoyed their visit to “The Big Easy”, In addition, MANY of them express a desire to MOVE here. Why? To ENJOY themselves, of course.”


          Visitors have been saying, “I love to move here” for the last 40 years!

          Yet, where are they?

          Where are the 130,000 who left NOLA after Hurricane Katrina 7 years ago? Should they not know that NOLA is such a great place to enjoy themselves?

          IF anything, the PROOF is totally against moving to, or back, to New Orleans or Louisiana.

          TALKING about moving to New Orleans and ACTUALLY moving and living in New Orleans are two different things.

          But of course, ALCOHOLICS, and those too drunk TOO REMEMBER, wouldn’t know the difference, as they couldn’t remember the FIRST time visitors actually said, “I would love to move to New Orleans” was long time ago, that is like 10, 20, 30 years ago.

          The “first time” visitors said, “I would love to move New Orleans” is not on the same date in history as the “last time” visitors said, “I would love to move to New Orleans.” The words, “the first time” doesn’t necessary mean “the last time”.

          – – – – – – – – – –

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          Just Bookmark me on Twitter at AhContraire

  3. Most festivals go unnoticed by locals, although they do get great attention in the press, which is now largely entertainment driven, especially when extensive copy is offered by some pr person. For any particular festival, some neighborhood can be impacted, but this tends to be once a year, as in the Poorboy festival that brings people to me. I don’t mind. I don’t think the Strawberry Festival in Pontchatoula is going to be a burden in my life. If a festival is of little interest, don’t go. A serious issue is the way Mardi Gras and the occasional Super Bowl affects the entire city for too long a period. Mardi Gras especially has gotten completely out of hand. Does anyone really get extra pleasure out of the absurd lengths of the super parades or the parades that get stacked up three at a time?

  4. Some savvy person, at some point, must have observed that there are people who do nothing but go to “events”. Add to that demographic the people who plan their entire lives around two or three specific “fests”. You know the ones: the loud and ill fitting clothing, the flip-up sun glasses, the canvas folding chairs strapped to their backs, the smart phone glued to their eyes at all times, the beads when there is no Mardi Gras, etc., etc. A goodly number actually go to EVERY fest or event. If New Orleans had a “Carjacking Fest” or a “Roach Fest”, they would come, grinning and taking terrible photographs of people hugging each other (dressed in roach costumes).
    Any good business person knows that appealing to certain demographic groups is a wise consideration. In the past festival organizers mainly concentrated on the various talents or specialty venues and let the word of mouth do its work. Now, a whole new industry has emerged and on a much grander scale. By identifying and focusing on that specific population that does virtually nothing BUT attend festivals the potential for success (??) is increased ten-fold. As Pistolette says, “There is more to life than festivals”, but for many people attending festivals IS the only thing in life. The condo market is an example. In the Quarter, alone, many buildings have “gone condo” appealing to those who want a place to stay ONLY for the fests. The very affluent can afford to buy a place to stay if only for a limited time (condos), and/or not tied down to any specific obligation to earn a living. Another group carefully plans for one or two special events a year: Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, etc. Still another group may visit New Orleans as a “once-in-a-lifetime” vacation. An even larger target “customer base” includes the entire world outside of the immediate United States. (You hear every language spoken, not only during “events”, but year round.) So, tourism in New Orleans is a well oiled (forgive the pun) machine that has wisely recognized the need for “fun experiences” 24/7.

  5. But….my children and I enjoy these festivals. Moreover, if there were fewer fests we might miss them due to other schedule constraints. More fests means more chances to catch one or more. As New Orleans becomes more popular, we have to watch out that we don’t change according to how we think the rest of the world *should* see us. Anyway, I don’t see how outsiders would even be aware that we have so many festivals. I don’t think they do that much research beyond Jazz and FQ. But even if they did, who cares! I enjoy celebrating the merliton and the creole tomato and the oyster. Yum.

    • If you don’t think “outsiders” don’t know about the “too many festivals” then you must have not have heard of the phrase, “Big Easy” and what outsiders understand what the phrase “Big Easy” means to them in regards to NOLA culture.

      • So they think BIg Easy means spring festivals? I disagree. Big Easy has to do with the laid back attitude associated with living here. You do realize that the festivals are mostly on the weekend, right?

  6. I’d also say–I know Chewbacchus is just one example Mr. Villere chose, but that was by far my favorite part of carnival this year. It was the parade that showed the most ingenuity and spirit on the part of the krewe, inspired the most audience costuming and interaction, and created the most actual community afterward. Sure, they’re weird, and it might not seem tied to the culture of New Orleans, but it’s much closer to my take on this city than the flashier, commercialized ‘fests’ I’ve been to.

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