By Kevin Sannahan
NSU’s Prather Coliseum was once again transformed into the finest musical venue in Louisiana for the 2019 Folk Life Festival, July 26-27. Several thousand festivalgoers were entertained by a diverse group of over 20 musical acts performing on three stages. Zydeco, Rockabilly, Blues and the World Music sound of the 50 Man Machine, complete with bagpipes, were just some of the styles available to listeners. Lessons in Cajun and line dancing were also held throughout the festival. In addition to the music, an eclectic group of craft booths were joined by the National Park Service, Louisiana Office of State Parks, Creole Heritage Center, National Park Service, NSU’s Cammie Henry Research Center and Cane River National Heritage Area on the main floor. The vendors displayed and sold homemade crafts and educated festival goers on various Louisiana and Native American folk ways. Blacksmiths and Dutch oven chefs held demonstrations outside of the festival.
One of the highlights of the festival was the induction of five deserving artists into the Hall of Master Folk Artists. Blues singer Tab Benoit, Cajun Musicians Jamie Berzas and Bruce Daigrepont, singer Vanessa Nieman, aka the “Punk Rock Patsy Cline” and Natchitoches’ own master file maker and cultural historian, John Oswald Colson, were presented with proclamations from the Louisiana House of Representatives. The U.S. Forest Service’s iconic Smokey the Bear was on hand and was wished a happy 75th birthday on stage. Vernon Parish’s Mr. Ron Yule, a past champion and long time fixture in our state’s musical scene, was named the 2019 Louisiana State Fiddle Champion.
The festival is a long standing favorite as evidenced by its loyal following. Many of the attendees and performers have been coming for years. Natchitoches resident, business woman, and indefatigable dancer, Shirley Dunagan, has come to the festival with a group of friends for over 25 years.
The Folklife Festival, now in its 40th year, is designed to showcase, preserve and perpetuate Louisiana’s unique culture. This year’s theme was “Vive la Louisiane!” For a modest admission fee, the Festival featured two solid days of superb music, arts and crafts, and education.