Lao New Year organizers look to make festival more memorable

Kimberly Liemkeo, an organizer for the annual Lao New Year festival in Coteau, says those putting on the festival are hoping for more people and more cultural history at this year’s event that takes place April 19-21. A kickoff party is scheduled April 18 at Cypress Bayou Casino & Hotel’s Rox Night Club.

We’re still a month away from the celebration of Lao New Year in Iberia Parish, but organizers for the annual festival at Wat Thammarattanaram temple in Coteau are already busy preparing for a two day celebration full of fun.

Kimberly Liemkeo, a New Iberia native who spends her time traveling between Iberia Parish and Atlanta, is one of the main organizers for the event in Coteau’s Lanexang Village. Although the annual festival is known to attract thousands from all over the world, Liemkeo said organizers are hoping to make this year’s event more accessible and educational.

How are organizers planning for this year’s festival?

We’ve been celebrating Lao New Year at the temple for more than 30 years, and this year we’re trying to push more into the mainstream and get more people to come out and immerse in the culture.

For people like me who grew up with this festival, you’ll come out and it will be the same old same old. We want to push for more cultural history, so we stepped forward this year and are trying to make it more memorable.

How are you trying to do that?

We’re definitely pushing the culture and heritage of the dances. We’ve got Cypress Bayou Casino to be our platinum sponsor this year, and we’re kickstarting the festival at Rox. We’ve got two entertainers, one is a Laotian DJ who resides in Lafayette.

The Friday of the event is the pageant where contestants in the Acadiana region and some in Texas enter. If you’ve been before, you know there are seven contestants and that actually stems from the culture back in the day, the king had seven daughters.

Saturday is the main event with the parade followed by a tea party banquet set up like a night event program with performances.

We have local dance teams immersed in the Laotian culture, and we’re trying to showcase that. After that the party commences in the back. We’ll have a live band and everyone will be celebrating the new year. It’s a two day event, daytime is free admission and the evening program charges admission of $15 Friday and $10 Saturday. Of course, we have tons of vendors with food, souvenirs, gifts and so on.

How many people normally attend the Lao New Year festival in Coteau?

We range anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000. This year we really want to push and we’re trying to boost that to 5,000. We are trying to shoot for more sponsors as well. This is a nonprofit organization and we have sponsorship levels broken down to five different categories.

Where does the money raised during the festival go?

It all goes back to the temple. Ideally what they make for the festival is enough to sustain the temple for the whole year but there are so many things to upkeep. We had to repaint the area where we do parties and events, upkeeping the worship hall, the coloring of the exterior, it just costs money. We’re trying to give back to the community and the temple is a huge stage where we want more things to be done.

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