Music, Art and History: the 38th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival

The Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, scheduled July 14-15, has been a tradition for the last 38 years. It serves as a reminder of what happened in the past that led to Louisiana culture as it is today. What better place to celebrate Louisiana culture than in the state’s oldest settlement?

The festival serves as the NSU Folklife Center’s outreach not just to the Natchitoches community, but to all of Louisiana. Guests will experience the unique Louisiana culture through food, music and handmade crafts.

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A variety of food vendors are available at the festival each year. Photos by Karalee Scouten

“[We] want to help folks realize just how rich and diverse the folk life is in this state and how awesome that folklore is,” Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the NSU Folklife Center, said.

Elements of Louisiana’s folklore will be displayed during the two-day festival. It will include crafts ranging from walking sticks and pine-needle baskets to a “Day of the Dead” altar and a Saint Joseph’s Day alter, all of which will be made on site.

Some activities will please people who enjoy hands-on interaction, such as the July 15 Cajun accordion workshop with artists Ray Abshire and Steve Riley. The musicians will share tricks of the trade and different techniques required to master an instrument few know much about. This workshop is free for all festival patrons.

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Vendors offer their crafts for sale at the festival, and some guests create their own souvenirs through craft activities.

While the crafts may be what guests take home as their memory, it is the music that will make festival goers get on their feet and dance.

The music will include a variety of Cajun tunes by Ray Abshire and Friends and traditional zydeco from Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience. Also featured will be a current NSU student, Clancey Ferguson, a bluegrass musician Rasmussen described as a “dynamite fiddler.”

Rasmussen feels strongly about the impact of live music for the festival.

“It’s immediate,” he said. “When you get to the festival in a live environment, you’ll have the band feeding off the energy of the crowd that is dancing with them.”

One highlight of the festival is the Annual Louisiana State Fiddle Championship taking place July 15 in Magale Recital Hall at 1 p.m. The winner will perform that evening on the main stage in Prather Coliseum.

According to Rasmussen, the winner always changes; they have had winners ranging from the age of 10 to older than 60.

Although the fiddle championship and the many other varied groups performing on stage add to the festival, Rasmussen believes the open-jam groups are the festival’s true heart.

In these jam groups, people will play anything and everything wherever they can find space, even in a hallway or corner.

It is in these jam sessions that people recognize voices of their culture and “pick up the torch of tradition,” as Rasmussen put it.

Rasmussen believes when these open-jam sessions come to an end, that is when the festival will shut its doors for good. He believes nothing survives without a heartbeat, and the jams are what drive the heart of the festival.

The Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival is also important to history, according to Rasmussen.

“When people experience firsthand the folk traditions of Louisiana, they realize how wonderful the people of Louisiana are,” he said. “They hear the unique genius of the common person and how that has more life and more heart than anything they’ll hear in the manufactured songs on the radio.”

The festival is not just a reflection of who a person is; it’s also a portal to what their ancestors were and to what they can be.

“Each individual player is going to add something different… Folklorists have the feeling that history is not static,” Rasmussen said. “It is always moving forward.”

There is something for all ages at the folk festival to experience a little bit of Louisiana folklore and glance down memory lane.

This year’s festival will take place July 14-15 in Prather Coliseum. Kids 12 and under are admitted for free, and tickets for a two-day pass are $13, available until July 11. A $6 pass for Friday evening or a $10 Saturday pass can be purchased at the door, cash only.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call 318-357-4332, email [email protected] or go to