One of South Louisiana’s most distinct festivals, Blackpot Festival & Cookoff returns to Lafayette’s Historic Vermillion Village this month. Besides the music, featuring Barbara Lynn, the Pine Leaf Boys, the Revelers, Quintron and Miss Pussycat and many others, there’s also a cookoff where culinary-minded contestants can compete in various categories such as gravy, gumbo, cracklin’, jambalaya and dessert.
Ironically, the Blackpot would never have been conceived if folk musician Jay Ungar hadn’t dared drummer Glenn Fields and guitarist Chas Justus of the Revelers. Fields and Justus were at a festival on the road bemoaning the fact that they were bypassed to headline a particular festival. “Jay said ‘Well you know the best way to headline a festival is to start your own,’” Fields recalls him saying. “We were like what? That’s a great idea. And then Jay said ‘Well, I dare you to do it.’ Basically Chas and I took the bull by the horns and eventually made it happen.” Lafayette weatherman Bob Moreau offered the use of a venue and the inaugural Blackpot was off and running, making its debut on Veteran’s Day weekend 2006.
What distinguishes Blackpot from other festivals is the inclusion of camping that’s available at nearby Beaver Park. “After they stop playing music on the stages, everybody can go back to the campground and play music with each other, cook, share recipes, trade tunes and get to know each other,” Fields explains. “Last year we had a really cool impromptu square dance out at the camp ground, which was really fun.”
As Blackpot’s notoriety grew, pre-festival dance events were added to accommodate the growing legion of out-of-state attendees arriving early. Justus, noticing how interest and energy increased every year, decided to leverage the talents of his visiting musicians and launched the Blackpot Camp in 2012. “The camp is partly to value what they know too,” Justus says. “We don’t want to just say hey, you do all this stuff but you are just here to be immersed in Cajun music. So let’s do a workshop on Appalachian clogging, swing fiddle or Irish music so whenever these people are down, you feature what they have to offer.”
Justus describes the camp as having a community atmosphere where participants help prepare meals and wash dishes, hence growing together. “It’s our opportunity to create a little utopia for a week” he says about the communal experience.
“It’s not just the performance, the band and the music,” Justus continues. “It’s an entire context. With our band the Revelers, a lot of it is finding and creating a context that you work best in and something like the Blackpot, we create our own context for everything.”