Louisiana has a flair and flavor all its own. But in the age of COVID-19, much of the joie de vivre — or at least the public opportunities to put it on display — was denied to the masses due to social distancing restrictions, stay-at-home orders and a healthy fear of spreading a contagious virus.
Organizers for some of the activities we used to take for granted have already announced their return in 2021. Others are still waiting for the vaccination roll out to create enough immunity for large crowds to again gather safely. Either way, the lack of musical, gastronomic and cultural input has made the return of culture to the Teche Area one of the most anticipated aspects of 2021.
Here’s a sampling of the things we missed last year and hope to enjoy again in the coming months.
1. BAYOU MARDI GRAS
The 2020 Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans was blamed for the spread of COVID-19 across a large swath of the region, so it’s no surprise that the festivities were cancelled there this year.
In New Iberia, though, the Bayou Mardi Gras Association did run in 2020, in early February. But in 2021, festivities were sidelined across the region due to the ongoing pandemic.
Although only in existence for a few years, the BMGA krewe has managed to ignite the carnival fever along the Bayou Teche, a flame that krewes in Grand Marais, Baldwin, Franklin and Loreauville have kept lit for years. Hopefully the coming year will mark the resurgence of those festivities as the coronavirus issues are put behind us.
2. WORLD GUMBO COOK-OFF
One of New Iberia’s signature events, the World Gumbo Cook-Off, took its act into the virtual world during the pandemic. Unfortunately, a virtual cookoff has a lot of the trappings of the cookoff, but the overall flavor is missing.
Already the organizers have announced that the event will return to Bouligny Plaza in 2021, which will be a boon to local gourmands and even those who only want to enjoy the sights and sounds that come along with the flavorful happening.
3. SUGAR CANE FESTIVAL
A recent announcement from the board of the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival announced the plan to bring the event back in the fall of 2021 after cancelling the 2020 shindig. Along with its parades and pageants, the Sugar Cane Festival is an opportunity for the local farmers to make their presence known as the largest single industry in Iberia Parish.
The Sugar Cane Festival building has also undergone a bit of a facelift during the pandemic due to vandalism that occurred after Hurricane Laura. So hopefully the festival will return to a better space for its 2021 run.
4. PLEIN AIR PAINTING COMPETITION
One of the first Teche Area events to fall by the wayside due to the coronavirus was the Shadows-on-the-Teche Plein Air Painting Competition.
It has already made its return, albeit with a thinner crowd, in 2021. Along with other Shadows events, like the biannual arts and craft fairs, children’s Halloween events and symphony performances, it’ll be nice to see a sense of normalcy return.
Speaking of which,
5. SYMPHONY SUNDAY IN THE PARK
The Iberia Cultural Resources Association has announced that its annual live event on the grounds at Shadows-on-the Teche is a go for 2021 after cancelling its appearance last June.
The event is a wonderful opportunity to hear live music in an outdoor setting, along with a sampling of foods and drinks from local vendors.
It is one of four ICRA shows each year, several of which were cancelled in 2020. If all goes well, 2021 will bring a much-needed dose of musical culture to inoculate attendees after a terrible drought of live performances.
6. BOOKS ALONG THE TECHE LITERARY FESTIVAL
One of the last-minute casualties of the state’s stay-at-home order last year was the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, which had been seeing some strong growth over the last few years.
The event is already slated to continue in 2021, with a warning that any increase in COVID restrictions could mean a modification of some events. But the early schedule shows the usual mix of tours, symposia, cultural events and opportunities for readers and authors alike to enjoy time speaking about their love of the written word and helping to guarantee its continued survival in the digital age.
7. A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
The annual Bayou Teche Museum is one of the jewels of downtown New Iberia’s social calendar, with a lively crowd of patrons sampling the wares of local restaurants, cocktails from area bartenders and the experiences of the Bayou Teche Museum all while donating to a good cause.
The 2020 event was postponed due to weather, but did eventually occur right before the state instituted its first set of stay-at-home restrictions. The 2021 event, however, was eliminated. Instead, the museum held its annual auction as an online only event. It is hoped that 2022 will see a return of the live party and all of the fun that goes with it.
8. ERATH FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION
For years, one of the earmarks of the July Fourth holiday in the Teche Area was the annual firefighter battles in Erath, where members of local fire departments faced off to try to hose the other team down and take home bragging rights for the next year.
That didn’t happen in 2020. Neither did the street fair and concerts that have stretched to fill most of the week around the holiday.
The Erath Fourth of July Association announced in March that it will be back this year with the fireworks, music, food — and yes, even water fights — that have made the event a big draw over the years.
9. NEW IBERIA CHRISTMAS PARADE
The year after New Iberia saw its first Christmas Festival debut downtown, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the city’s Christmas parade and a downsizing of the festival. Although no announcements have been made yet, the diminishing toll of the disease will hopefully allow both events to return in 2021.
10. MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
The annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was celebrated, but in a much more muted fashion than in previous years. Instead of the indoor events that could not be held due to social distancing restrictions, a small crowd did gather for an outdoor celebration on Hopkins Street. As the vaccination rate among the population increases and the infection rate of COVID-19 decreases, hopefully the day of service and reflection can return to its previous scale.