Columnist Geoff Daily explores Lafayette’s economy and government, providing critical commentary about what’s working and what’s not.

COLUMN: Festival International is a testament to Lafayette’s capacity for collective action

Festival International artist Delgres
Delgres (France/Guadeloupe) soaks in the light, love and cheer of Festival International 2022. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Festival International made me want to live in Lafayette. Every Festival since then has only reaffirmed that feeling. It will always hold a special place in my heart. 

But what makes Festival so special to me isn’t just that it’s one of the best music festivals on the planet. 

What makes Festival so special to me is how it serves as a living manifestation of Lafayette’s capacity for collective action toward a common good. It’s a showcase for how we have the ability to come together to create something great for our community — that improves our quality of life and our economic competitiveness all in one fell swoop.

The most visible sign are the 2,000 volunteers who donate many thousands of hours to make Festival possible. They man drink tents, wristband stations, will-call kiosks. They pick up trash and chauffeur artists, record video and so much more. Thousands of people do this every year, all because they want to be a part of helping put on this great event.

Then there are the dozens of sponsors who cut big checks and make the big in-kind donations. Plus the hundreds of individuals who cut smaller checks. And the thousands who buy pins. All because we want to do our part to make this event happen. Consider the Rain Angels, who help make sure Festival perseveres even if rain events hamper the drink and merch sales that make up a good portion of Festival’s revenue.

And these private efforts are supported by our local government, which provides a variety of support ranging from police officers to utility services. All to further the common interests of our community.

Really, when you stop to think about it, how many other examples are there of businesses, nonprofits, government and thousands of individuals all working together toward the common good on a project of this significance? And by all accounts, doing so in a productive way without the acrimony that holds back so many other community efforts.

Of course, the cynics reading this might scoff at my boosterism. Festival is just a party, right? 

But that’s the thing, it’s not. Festival wasn’t initially conceived as just another party. It was a solution.

Its genesis came from a small group of people rallying around the common cause of doing something to revitalize Downtown and jolt Lafayette’s economy back to life amid the oil bust of the 1980s. 

Two women take in Festival International
Lafayette got a shot in the arm with Festival International 2022 and reminder of what it’s capable of.

The idea was that such a festival could bolster our cultural economy, both by creating a great showcase for our local food, music and artists, and by building something that would attract people to visit and even move to Lafayette. (In my case, it worked.)

And by any measure, this effort has clearly succeeded. The event itself has grown to become one of the largest free international music festivals in the U.S. It attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees to a city with a population of just 125,000, and generates upwards of $50 million of economic impact, according to a study commissioned by Festival a few years ago.

But then there’s also the intangible benefits of improving Lafayette’s quality of life in a way that attracts people to come here. How many people have come to Lafayette to attend Festival who then fell in love with our area, and started visiting more often and spending more of their time and money here? Or, like me, decided to move here and make Lafayette their home?

All this impact happened because a handful of people had an idea for something they wanted to do to make Lafayette better and grow our economy, and because thousands of people joined in that vision. 

Truly Festival stands as a testament to Lafayette’s ability to dream big. To create something out of nothing. To set aside our differences and muster the combined energy of thousands of people. All working to make Lafayette better and to have a good time doing it.

After two years without Festival, it was inspiring to see it roar back into real life this year. As our politics continue to devolve and our economy continues to navigate new challenges, Festival was a reminder that by working together we can make our community better. And that when Lafayette works as one, we’re capable of achieving great things.

As we move forward in figuring out how to live with a diminished oil and gas industry while dealing with inflation and global economic turmoil, my hope is that the spirit that’s made Festival possible can be harnessed to accomplish even more for our community’s future. 

Lafayette clearly has the capacity to manifest our own destiny if we can come together with common purpose.