No Acadian Festival this year, but waterfront show still on go

Staff Report

The rides, games, food and music associated with the International Acadian Festival will not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it will not stop the entire Iberville Parish tradition.

The midway and carnival attractions synonymous with  the International Acadian Festival, as seen in a photo from recent years, will not be a part of this year's event, due to the coronavirus. The event will return full-blast next year, and will be held for the first time on the fourth weekend in October.

Knights of Columbus Council No. 970, sponsors of the event first held in 1969, will hold the traditional water ceremony highlighted by the presentation of this year’s Miss Evangeline.

The ritual along Bayou Plaquemine is tentatively set for Saturday, Oct. 10. The event will feature the traditional presentation of Evangeline and her Indian princesses, along with a band that will perform that evening.

Each year, the KCs present a girl from the senior class of an Iberville Parish high school to reign as Evangeline.

In a year rife with cancelations and disruptions of time-honored traditions, the KCs did not want to add the water ceremony to the list of events locally and nationwide that have been scrapped due to COVID-19, Festival chairman Steve Smith said.

“For those senior girls, it’s their only shot, and we get a lot of interest from girls wanting to be on that court and be Evangeline,” he said. “We’re going to do as much as we can for them, but we’re just at the mercy of this pandemic.”

Planning for the festival hit a few roadblocks even before the coronavirus.

The company that provided rides for the festival went out of business earlier this year. The process of finding another ride circuit sputtered, as well.

“There aren’t many ride circuits in Louisiana or even in the South, and all of them were booked for the fall,” Smith said. “We found one, but we’ve always done the festival on the third weekend in October, but the ride company was booked.”

The organizers hoped to move the event to the fourth weekend of the month, but those plans came to a screeching halt due to weddings booked at the Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta Waterfront Park that same weekend.

“And then came the virus, and that was another problem,” Smith said.

The International Acadian Festival was created in 1969 by Gary J. Hebert, founder of the Post/South along with his wife Joyce S. Hebert. It was known as the Sugar Festival during its inaugural year, which featured a parade led by grand marshal Jimmie Davis, who served as governor from 1944-48 and 1960-64.

The inaugural event was held on the grounds of St. John School, but relocated to the parish fairgrounds, where it remained until 2004. It moved to the C.M. “Mike” Zito Multipurpose Center the following year and later relocated to its current location at the waterfront park.

The decision to keep the water ceremony on schedule helps maintain the tradition of the festival intact – something that holds a special meaning to Smith, among many others in the parish.

“I worked with the waterfront ceremony going back to 1975 when I was with the Plaquemine Jaycees, and that was when I was in my early twenties,” he said. “I remember the first festival when I was a sophomore in high school, and all of those memories are too special to this city and parish for us just to give up on it – and all of it will be back next year.”