Thought festival season was over? Not so fast. Three staples of Louisiana culture—the Creole tomato, seafood, and Cajun and zydeco music—will come together once again for this year’s Vieux-To-Do. The two-day event will be held on Saturday and Sunday, June 13—14, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and it will bring together three festivals: the French Market Creole Tomato Festival in its 24th year, the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, and the Louisiana Seafood Festival. These three distinct festivals became a trinity of Louisiana culture by happenstance only two years ago.
“That first year (2007), it was accidental that we were together,” says Scott Aiges, director of programming for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, which presents the Cajun-Zydeco Festival. That year, the stages and seafood were at the U.S. Mint on Esplanade Avenue, which borders the French Market.
“After the event, we realized that not only did we have a hugely successful event, but the tomato festival had also had one of its most successful ever. We resolved that we would take this collaboration and make it purposeful and not accidental,” he says.
All events are free and open to the public and will be held exclusively at the French Market. Music stages and seafood booths will no longer be found at the U.S. Mint; instead, they’ll be located at Dumaine Street and Barracks Street on the flea market grounds. The Creole Tomato Festival will be in the Performance Pavilion at Dutch Alley.
This synergy of Southern Louisiana food and music brings tourism to the city during summer months not traditionally known for large festivals. It provides an opportunity for consumers from inside the city and out to buy local and support Louisiana’s farmers and fisherman in the process, according to Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board.
“Each group by itself would be a lot weaker,” says Smith.
Kenneth Ferdinand, executive director of the French Market Corporation, says that Vieux-To-Do will be an opportunity for people to see the French Market completed. After years of renovations, as part of the revitalization of the flea market and farmer’s market, all areas of the market are finally open. This is the highlight of the festival, he says. The music is another.
Zydeco music has long been a part of the culture of Southwest Louisiana. Recently, with the institution in 2008 of the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category at the Grammys, more people have taken notice. This year’s lineup boasts of two Grammy winners, BeauSoleil and Terrance Simien, and three nominees, the Pine Leaf Boys, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, and the Lost Bayou Ramblers.
Between sets, Creole Tomato dishes will be demonstrated at the Performance Pavilion in Dutch Alley. Chef Jack Martinez of Dickie Brennan’s will start the day Saturday from 12 until 1 p.m. Chef Nino of Rouse’s will end the festivities on Sunday from 4:30 until 5:30 p.m. Other culinary greats will create unforgettable dishes throughout the weekend with tomatoes from St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Livingston parishes—tomatoes that, according to Byron Hughey, co-founder of the Creole Tomato Festival, will taste this sweet for two months only.
Chef Paul Prudhomme, whose famed Cajun cuisine helped boost the popularity of Cajun and zydeco music in the ’70s and ’80s, will return to the Seafood Festival this year, where he’ll be joined by chefs from the Redfish Grill, Saltwater Grill, Emeril’s NOLA, the Bourbon House and others.
The festival has brought people from around the world, the region, and the state, according to Ewell Smith. Smith says it might be about the size of the French Quarter Festival 25 years ago, but he believes that this is a great start and its future seems secure.
Scott Aiges agrees.
“There are dozens and dozens of artists that are out there working in the zydeco realm that are definitely worth having on the show,” he says. “I don’t think we’re in any danger at all of running out of fresh talent.”
As long as those sweet tomatoes keep growing in the summer, fisherman keep catching their catch, and kids continue to pick up that dusty accordion in the garage, a New Orleans Vieux-To-Do will greet us each June for years to come.