For off-the-wall festival fun, get outta town

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NEW YORK -- Festival season in Louisiana is almost here again, promising enough wild and wacky events to please the most varied tastes.

"We have more than 600. They start in late March and run through September," said a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

While the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is world famous, the Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette, held the same week, is a favorite of locals.

"[Musicians] come from all over the world," the spokeswoman said. "We have performers from 15 different countries, including Australia, Brazil, Cuba, Ghana, Nigeria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe."

The Festival International de Louisiane will take place in Lafayette from April 23 to 27. The festival runs April 23 through 27. For information, call (337)232-8086.

Festivals come in many varieties. Here are some highlights:

• The Blessing of the Fleets is a ceremony in which priests bless the shrimp boats. "It's a religious blessing, [but] it's a party atmosphere," said the spokeswoman. "Louisiana can't do anything without a party."

Ceremonies take place in Westwego on April 21, (504) 347-8495; in Lafitte on April 26, (504) 689-4754; in Golden Meadow on April 26 (504) 475-5428; and in Dulac on April 27 (985) 563-2325.

• The Angola Spring Rodeo, April 12 and 13, is one in which "convicts ride," said the spokeswoman. The riders are inmates of the Louisiana State Prison in Angola.

"It's a true rodeo, no clowns. These guys want to get out there and do it true to form. This is a good example of how Louisiana festivals are a little different from other states."

For more information, visit www.angolarodeo.com.

• The Contraband Festival in Lake Charles, April 29 to May 11, commemorates Jean Lafitte, the pirate who helped the Americans fight the British in the War of 1812.

The festival, named in honor of the contraband Lafitte was said to have buried somewhere in the waterways of southwest Louisiana, was designated 2002 Festival of the Year by the Louisiana Association of Fairs & Festivals.

For information, log onto www.visitlakecharles.org.

• The Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival takes place May 2 to 4. It features three stages with more than 30 Cajun and zydeco bands and crawfish cooked every which way.

Breaux Bridge won the Festival of the Year award in its division every year from 1997 to 2001.

Adults pay $5 a day or $10 for a three-day pass. Children age 12 and under are free. Visit www.bbcrawfest.com for details.

• The Louisiana Peach Festival takes place in Ruston, beginning on June 7, with a calendar of events that continues until the closing ceremony June 16.

For information, call (318) 255-2031; e-mail [email protected] or visit www.rustonlincoln.org.

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