With a population of only 8,700 and a median household income of just over $25,000, Rayne is the kind of small town that might be first to feel the pinch of a tough economy. But Rayne is a model of civic gumption as it continually seeks ways to thrive, from creating a state-of-the-art RV camping park to the potential building of Frogland, a theme park. And, of course, it gets a boost from its biggest event, the Frog Festival which brings in 50,000 people in one weekend.
I chose Rayne for a couple of reasons. For one, it connects me to my own small town roots: when I was boy in Norridgewock, Maine, the town's only annual event was its Labor Day fun fair frog races--which my brother and I entered with toad-training fervor each year. My town didn't have a queen, unlike Rayne's festival (also held Labor Day weekend), which has not only royalty but its own frog jumping races (among a raft of frog-themed events). Also, Rayne is part of the Louisiana Association of Fairs and Festivals (LAFF), the best-organized festival system in the country; Rayne's queen is one of more than 80 Louisiana small town festival queens who visit each other's fairs, promote their towns, and help keep local traditions alive. Their home state is the logical starting point for any book about the American festival queen tradition, and I will intersperse stories from around the country with my trips into the LAFF world.
Photo: Larry "RibRater" Jay at RoadFood.Com