Content Produced in Partnership with Louisiana Travel
A Baton Rouge raised musician by the name of David Gambrell once said, “Laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll) is the unofficial motto” of Louisiana — and we couldn’t agree more. If there’s one thing Louisiana is good at (and there are many), it’s having a good time. The state boasts more than 400 festivals throughout the year, which is probably one of the reasons why its ranked as one of the happiest states in the US. With more than 400 festivals to choose from though, how do you pick the best? That's where we come in. We've done the research and compiled the master list of those festivals you simply don't want to miss. Whether you're looking for a plate full of authentic Cajun cuisine or a music festival that redefines the typical experience, we've found it. The only thing left to do is “bon temp” — let the good times roll.
Baton Rouge Blues Festival
With roots as deep as the oak trees, the soulful sounds of homegrown blues have been celebrated in Baton Rouge long before the festival was even established in 1981. Louisiana boasts dozens of talented blues musicians (Lightnin' Slim, Lucia Ball and Slim Harpo are just a few big names), and the Baton Rouge Blues Festival is a celebration of rhythm in the place where it all began. Recognized as one of America’s oldest blues festivals, the festival in Louisiana's capital city draws in local and international artists to celebrate the beauty of the music that makes Louisiana so special — and the community of people that has helped it thrive. For two days, the entire city is transformed into series of outdoor blues clubs featuring artists that have mastered their craft in creating the irresistible tunes that have defined the rhythm of Louisiana. The festival is free to the public, and it'd be a crying shame to miss it.
WHEN: April 14-15, 2018
WHERE: Baton Rouge
MORE INFO: http://www.batonrougebluesfestival.org/
Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival
For a true dip into Louisiana culture, customs, and traditions, there's no better option than the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Heralded as the gateway to Cajun cuisine, the Louisiana State Legislature dubbed Breaux Bridge the “Crawfish Capital of the World" back in 1959, and the city promptly responded by hosting its first crawfish festival in 1960. Serving up crawfish in almost every imaginable way for more than 50 years, Breaux Bridge was the first town in Louisiana to include crawfish on its restaurant menus and even has bragging rights to inventing crawfish étouffée. Today's Crawfish Festival is downright heaven for your tastebuds, featuring numerous dishes – including boiled crawfish, crawfish pies and crawfish étouffée, to name a few – during the three-day festivities. In addition to delicious cuisine, 30 different bands showcasing the sounds of Cajun, zydeco and swamp pop are featured, making the festival an ideal event for those seeking to hear a hearty variety of local — and authentic — Cajun music. A word to the wise, only first-time visitors to Louisiana will call crawfish "crawdads" — and attempt to eat them with the fork. Your best bet is to do as the locals do: sit down at a picnic table covered in newspaper, then dive into a heaping plate of boiled crawfish with both hands. It's the Louisiana way.
WHEN: May 4-6, 2018
WHERE: Breaux Bridge
MORE INFO: http://bbcrawfest.com/
Louisiana Pirate Festival
No state celebrates its rich heritage and history quite like Louisiana does. Its wild spirit shines, encouraging all who travel there to let loose and embrace the past. Lake Charles’ annual Pirate Festival is all of the above — with a touch of nautical rebellion. The legendary tale of Jean Lafitte, a pirate who docked his boat and buried his treasure along the banks of Lake Charles, inspired the Louisiana Pirate Festival. Now one of the oldest festivals celebrated in the state, the 10-day affair officially kicks off at Buccaneer Landing when the pirates take over the city of Lakes Charles. Scallywags from far and wide take part in the shenanigans on both land and "sea," and line the docks of Lake Charles for the huge fireworks display on the final night.
WHEN: May 3-13, 2018
WHERE: Lake Charles
MORE INFO: https://www.louisianapiratefestival.com/
We have a feeling you'll be hard pressed to find a festival even remotely similar to Bayou Boogaloo. Because, after all, only in New Orleans would it make sense to host a music festival on the banks of the bayou while attendees float along in unicorn floaties and makeshift pirate ships with a drink in hand. Located along the Bayou St. John in Midcity, Bayou Boogaloo is a purely authentic New Orleans music festival. Participants can enjoy the view from the water's edge, but true festival goers grab a canoe or kayak and float along the shoreline instead. The three-day festival is free and open to the public, meaning you'd be crazy not to attend while you're in town. Aside from local musical acts on three main stages, Bayou Boogaloo Music Festival features local soul food and Cajun vendors and handmade arts. So grab a drink and embrace the slow-moving way of life down on the bayou. There's no shame in this festival's game.
WHEN: May 18-20, 2018
WHERE: New Orleans
MORE INFO: http://www.thebayouboogaloo.com/
Louisiana Peach Festival
The abundance of peach orchards hugging the small town of Ruston in the northern corner of the state have become a symbol of all the tasteful joys the city has to offer. The peach ice cream is a summertime staple for folks and people from across the state clamor for a basket of peaches to take home. The culmination of the harvest season takes place during the fourth weekend in June with the Louisiana Peach Festival. This two-day festival goes all out with peach-themed pageants and parades to a bass tournament, rodeo, antique car show, 5k run, and even a juried arts and crafts show. For those who have eyes bigger than their stomachs and find peach cobbler to be “peachy keen,” there is a Cobbler Gobbler Eating Contest that offers a $1,000 prize to the contestant who can successfully consume the most peach cobbler. With farm-fresh peach ice cream in hand, this festival is a great way to relax and enjoy a summers day in Louisiana with the family.
WHEN: June 22-23, 2018
MORE INFO: http://www.louisianapeachfestival.org/
What was supposed to be a one-time event to honor the 100th birthday of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong has now become an annual event to coincide with his birthday on August 4. The Satchmo Summer Festival in downtown New Orleans celebrates the best of Louis Armstrong's musical legacy in the city known as the Birthplace of Jazz. Multiple stages are set up featuring a range of jazz musicians and styles — traditional rhythms to big band sounds — for a fun three days of outdoor concerts. Nearly all of the participating musicians are based in NOLA and the festival has special exhibitions, like history seminars and second-line parades, to help the public better understand the rich, vivacious sounds. Even the food and drink vendors are inspired by the great Satchmo — event coordinators ensure Armstrong's favorite dishes are available to the public, and no commercial vendor or caterer (or even a large chain) from outside the state is considered, ensuring a truly local Louisiana feel. With all the fun and down home hospitality, you might just find yourself leaving your heart in New Orleans.
WHEN: August 3-5, 2018
WHERE: New Orleans
MORE INFO: http://fqfi.org/satchmo
Festivals Acadiens et Créoles
A rich blend of French, Celtic, Scots-Irish and Native American influences have been passed down from the Acadians (or Cajuns as we call them today). Though exiled from Nova Scotia in 1755, these people settled in Southwest Louisiana, preserving their rich heritage and building off the new ones they found in Louisiana in the process. That fusion of traditions is still very much alive across Louisiana today — in rhythmic dances and cherished family recipes. In an effort to preserve and pay tribute to this culture, Acadiens et Créoles was born. A representation of the rich diversity that exists amongst Louisiana culture, the Lafayette festival features performances of the culture's oldest ballads to modern experimental Cajun music and zydeco. Of course, no festival in Louisiana is complete without a celebration of its food. Cajun and Creole flares can be savored in the variety of exquisite foods offered: fried soft-shell blue crab, barbecue boudin, crawfish fettuccine, corn and crab bisque, wild game jambalaya, bread pudding and pralines — let's just say you'll need to wear some comfortable pants. Festivalgoers can admire multi-media folk art, dance to music performed by local artists and even join in on the action in the Jam Tent.
WHEN: October 11-14, 2018
MORE INFO: http://www.festivalsacadiens.com/
According to Cajun legend, the rougarou is creature with the body of a man and the head of a wolf. The creature is said to stalk the swamps and bayous of South Louisiana, transforming into a full wolf in the light of the full moon. Common in folklore around the bayou even today, the creature is also credited for keeping misbehaving children in line — for fear that they could possibly meet the macabre creature in the flesh. Just in time for Halloween, the Rougarou Festival is a spooky — but very family-friendly festival — that celebrates this legend and the bayou way of life in the small town of Houma. Featuring a Krewe Ga Rou Halloween themed parade with dozens of witches walking through the crowds, a Hurricane Z Haunted House, a costume contest and plenty of Cajun-inspired food, you'll find the Rougarou Festival is a full sensory experience that's sure to spark the imagination. All the creepy and ghastly is for a good cause, though. This event was created to support environmental sustainability through South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, a nonprofit organization, so festivalgoers can continue to enjoy the area that inspired the swamp legends for years to come.
WHEN: October 20-21, 2018
MORE INFO: https://rougaroufest.org/
Red River Revel Arts Festival
More than 120,000 people converge on the town of Shreveport each October for an arts festival unlike any other. The Red River Revel, or “The Revel” as locals like to call it, is an eight day festival devoted entirely to visual and performing arts — and all those wondrous Louisiana tidbits in between. Taking place in downtown Shreveport on the banks of the Red River, more than 100 visual artists from across the country come together to jam out on three performance stages. The event hosts bungee bouncing and a giant sandbox, numerous tents selling intricate handmade treasures (jeweled pendants, feathery hats and painted canvases to name a few), and plenty of pavement to get your groove on. There’s also an Arts Education station dedicated to sharing the vibrant art forms that have helped create the colorful city that it is today. Before you leave be sure to leave your mark by placing a few colorful tiles on the community-made mosaic, which is created and designed entirely by contributing artists and event attendees.
WHEN: Early October (2018 TBD)
MORE INFO: http://redriverrevel.com/
Natchitoches Festival of Lights
Paris may be known as the City of Lights, but there's a town in Louisiana that offers some stiff competition, especially during the holiday season. Nestled along the Cane River in Central Louisiana is a town with a kooky name that you might recognize from the film Steel Magnolia. Pronounced like “knack-ah-dish,” Natchitoches is Louisiana's oldest city as well as the oldest settlement from the Louisiana Purchase. Infused with rich French influences, this city expresses its rich historical past through colonial carriage rides, vintage streetcar tours, local festivals and art galleries, and loaded meat pies. At the heart of it all is the Natchitoches Festival of Lights, a signature Louisiana celebration that makes the Christmas season a little brighter.
On the first Saturday of December each year, more than 300,000 Christmas lights and over 100 light displays illuminate Louisiana’s oldest city and the picturesque riverbank of Cane River Lake. The kaleidoscope of colors strung into the shapes of prancing reindeer, towering gingerbread castles, and marching soldiers along the river’s edge create a spectacular mirrored reflection on the water, while canopies of light drape overhead from one building to the next. The two-month festival features plenty of activities, including a pet-the-alligator station (yes, really), a Holiday Tour of Homes, festive fireworks over the water and — in typical Louisiana style — plenty of live entertainment from local musicians like Louisiana Red and Cane River Soul.
WHEN: Mid-November through the beginning of January
MORE INFO: https://www.natchitoches.com/
Festival of the Bonfires
If Christmas lights aren't your style, then the Festival of the Bonfires on the Great River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans might be. Throughout the month of December, a new bonfire is lit every night to light the way for Papa Noel, the Cajun Santa Claus. Once a local re-enactment of the bonfire legacy French and German settlers left behind, this Bonfire Festival has now become a boisterous community celebration around flames, food, and entertainment. Now, dozens of 15-plus-foot fiery pyramids line the Mississippi River levee, forming an almost ritualistic scene to honor the river’s heritage. The highest number of bonfires can be seen in St. James Parish near the town of Lutcher, which is why it hosts the public Festivals of the Bonfires in early December. The three-day, family-friendly festival includes a gumbo cook-off, carnival rides, Santa’s Very Merry Forest and several bonfire lightings. Remember, this isn't a daytime festival. You'll want to be prepared for a late night — or an early morning, depending on how you look at things.
WHEN: Early December