Friday, April 19, 2019

The People are the Best Part of the Books Along the Teche Festival

New Iberia oaks featured during the Live Oak Walk.
In my series on the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, I would be remiss if I didn't cover the best part of this festival.  Yes, the events are great, but what makes this festival so cool is the people you meet in New Iberia.

This festival draws people from all over the world, and that is not an exaggeration! James Lee Burke has quite a fan base, it seems.

Steve and I have made really good friends at this festival and have met people we stay in touch with.  Last year we met Wendy and Mike who simply insisted that we could not sit out the Cajun dancing, would not take no for an answer, and before you know it, had us up dancing with the locals. We stayed in touch and even made another trip to New Iberia over the summer to meet them for dinner and dancing. You won't meet better people anywhere.

This year we made new friends once again.

The first night, the Opening Reception event was moved from The Shadows to the Sliman Theater on Main Street due to rainy weather. We sat at long tables in the center of the room with the two buffet lines against the walls, and the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band played on stage.  We were joined at our table by Mary Ubinas who, with her husband David Dahlquist, is active in conservation and preservation of Bayou Teche through the Teche Project.

Mary is the lady who last year stood outside of The Shadows with us and told us that they could have retired anywhere in the world they wanted to and they wanted to come to New Iberia. They were from Iowa, where Steve is from, and we really enjoyed meeting them, so I was glad to see Mary again this year. She was accompanied by her friend Marsha, also from Iowa.

In the "It's a Small World" category, we found out that Marsha and Steve have one of those six-degrees-of-separation connections and we all hit it off immediately.

Marsha and Steve.

The Opening Reception could not have been more fun or spontaneous. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser was in attendance and declared his love for New Iberia in his comments to the crowd. He said that he has the best job in the world and I tend to believe him. Who wouldn't love being able to attend all of Louisiana's great festivals and mingle with such wonderful people?

The organizers of the festival are talented, adaptable people who were totally unflappable about the location move for the event and when it came time to do the Second Line with the band, normally done through the gardens of The Shadows, Vicky Branton just led us all right out the front doors of the Sliman, down Main Street, stopped traffic, crossed over, and came back again!  It was delightful!

Cathy Indest and the Second Line (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball Photography)

I think the band was as surprised as anyone that we went outside.

The Bunk Johnson Brazz Band Second Line down Main St. (Photo used by permission from Lee Ball)

This was about the time I discovered my camera battery was dead and I had failed to bring my backup, so I ran alongside with my cell phone recording the Second Line. Cars were honking and people rolled down their windows and waved and cheered.

We kept on going until we returned to the Sliman.

Second Line down Main. (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball photography)

The evening concluded with a lively auction of a beautiful painting by Jerome Weber whose work was used as the image on the festival t-shirt and poster this year.

As we were leaving, Steve and I lingered, visiting, hating for the evening to end. That's when we met Stefan Kropelin who came to the festival from Cologne, Germany.

Anyone who knows my husband knows he loves the time he served in Germany while in the Air Force and so he was delighted to meet Stefan. They hit it off right away as they compared blood sugar readings, meters, and insulin pens, and then Stefan told us all about how he discovered Burke's books and how much he enjoyed them.

Steve and Stefan Kropelin.

He's read them in both German and English and when he learned about this festival he just had to come.

Stefan even rented Clete Purcell's room Number 4 at the Teche Motel!

Stefan in Room No. 4, Teche Motel. (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball)

Now that's a fan!

I just fell in love with Stefan; he was having a wonderful time. He took millions of photos, he gathered email addresses, and he talked to every single person there. Such a wonderful, joyful person!

The last night we all went to the Boogie On Down event at the Steamboat Warehouse Pavilion where we ate, danced with Rebecca Wells! (squeeeee!), and made more friendships.

Marsha, Wendy, Me, Steve. (Photo by Stefan Kropelin).

At the end of the night I think Stefan was as sad for it to all end as anyone; we were the last ones to leave long after the band had already packed up.

Stefan catching one more photo of the band.

I don't think there is enough space to capture all the great friendships I've made through this festival. Fran Thibodeaux from the Iberia Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau has my heart - she has made it possible for us to attend this festival and could not have been more generous and kind to Steve and me.

What I've found in New Iberia, and I've made at least half a dozen visits in the past twelve months, is a community of warm, welcoming people who are genuinely glad that you are there and happy to greet you and talk to you. They're proud of their community and happy to share it with you. I completely understand when Mary Ubinas says there is no place they would rather live.

There is so much happening at this festival, I still could not do it all this year, and I still have a list of posts to share with you about other events!

Honestly, in a state with over 400 festivals per year, the Books Along the Teche Festival is one not to be missed. It highlights all that is beautiful and special about Louisiana, about Iberia Parish, and about the people that comprise both. James Lee Burke sites and scenery is just a bonus!

Special thanks once again to Lee Ball Photography for the use of his photographs!

Further Reading:
Books Along the Teche Literary Festival: Great Southern Chefs (SIGIS, 4/13/19)
Author Rebecca Wells Charms the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival (SIGIS, 4/10/19)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 1 (SIGIS, 4/9/2018)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 2 (SIGIS, 4/14/2018)
Explore Chad: Basic Research and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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