Thursday, January 15, 2009

Spotlight on Bayou Teche Bear Festival Queen

If you’re the Bayou Teche Bear Festival Queen, sometimes you trade your sash for a life jacket--after all, the home base for your festival is a rich, ecologically diverse Bayou. Heather Lynn Phillips, the current queen, is seen here on the Bayou with an agent of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The college sophomore has spent her reign traveling to other towns and parishes to talk about the threatened species, including educating children on the do’s and don’ts of interacting with a bear in the wild.
One event from her festival weekend is the Oyster Eating contest (shown here, middle and bottom), which Heather makes look blissfully easy, but proved a challenge for a Queen Mom who tried hard to be a good sport. (Note, at very near right, the clown who competed still wearing his make-up!) Heather was joined by visiting Teen and Miss Queens from the Farm Bureau, Cajun Hot Sauce, and Cypress Swamp festivals for the events held in beautiful Franklin, known for its cypress tupelo swamps, live oaks, and antebellum architecture.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spotlight on Miss LA Cajun Food Fest

Gabrielle Theriot, Miss LA Cajun Food Fest, comes from a royal family: her 4 year-old sister Macy (on Santa's knee) is Petite Miss LA Honey Bee Festival Queen and her mother Dayna (not shown) is Mrs. Queen of the Pines for the St. Helena Forest Festival. (Even Gabrielle's grandmother participated in festival pageants as a girl.) Kaplan, the hometown of Gabrielle's current festival, is part of Vermilion Parish, which she says is known “the most Cajun place on earth.” Beyond her festival (which features cook-offs and live music), Gabrielle’s duties include at least 20 events as a visiting queen and regular attendance at Chamber of Commerce meetings in Kaplan. This is her first time as a Miss Queen, but she was Teen Crawfish before this, and says she chose which festivals to compete for based on her favorite foods--not a bad idea, at least if you've ever tasted the food down here!

Spotlight on Miss Luling Boutte Fall Festival

The queen of the newest festival in Louisiana is Robin Sons, the first Miss Luling Boutte Lions Club Fall Festival. The Fall Festival is a weekend-long spirit booster and benefit, from which all proceeds go to the Louisiana Lions Camp for children with mental and physical challenges, diabetes, and pulmonary disorders. Robin travels the state to introduce people to the new festival, as you see her doing (bottom left) at the Gumbo Festival in Chackbay, but she also must travel an hour each way from home in Berwick to preside over events in Luling, like the Halloween social (bottom right). This summer, the 19 year-old joined other visiting queens as a guest of honor at the New Orleans Zephyrs Ballpark Beauties night.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spotlight on Erath Miss 4th of July Queen

Having represented various festivals since she was 16, 23 year-old Allyson Boudreaux (driving the truck bottom left) is officially in her last reign as a Miss queen on the festival circuit. For her final title, as Erath Miss 4th of July Queen, she made it her mission to focus on American troops during her year of service. As she explains, "I joined with a non-profit organization called Soldier's Angels. With them, I do everything from saying farewell to units being deployed to visiting Veterans Hospitals. I'm in the process of doing two projects: trying to get over 1,000 signed 'Thank You' cards sent to soldiers; and working on 'Operation Mardi Gras 2009,' to bring Louisiana Mardi Gras to the soldiers deployed overseas. The 244th Louisiana Guard unit out of Hammond will get together on Mardi Gras day, in Iraq, and put on a Mardi Gras parade 'Louisiana Style' for the other soldiers not from around here." (To learn more visit the website at .)

Shown here are some of the Erath 4th of July festivities, including water fights between the fire crews from neighboring towns. As queen, Allyson presents the winners with their trophy and a ceremonial red stick that gets passed on year to year. Joining her is the current Queen of Queens, Brandi Stout.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spotlight on LA Honey Bee Queen

The Louisiana Honey Bee Festival is unusual among state festivals in that it doesn’t honor one town, parish, or industry but rather the fight against children’s illnesses. Started in memory of Heather Williams, a girl who died of leukemia, the festival’s events (including a vintage car show) all raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and, with other similar fundraisers in the state, bring in about $400,000 a year. The current Honey Bee queen is another Heather, 19 year-old Heather Gonzalez. Among her activities since her October crowning, she attended attended the Festival of the Bonfires (where she had her face painted in honeybee pride), and the Westwego Festival, where she met local mascot Mr. Ray
--an inflatable fireman with a real person inside--and clowned around with visiting royalty, pretending to save her banner from the jaws of an alligator with the St. James Parish, French Food, St. John Sugar, Orange, and Strawberry queens.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Spotlight on the Louisiana Tournoi Queen

Leigh Phillips of Sulphur is Queen over one of the most colorful and historic Louisiana events, Le Tournoi. This tournament traces its roots back to the town’s founding by its first mayor, a major from Napoleon’s army who was enamored of the French tradition of knights in armor riding horseback and fighting with heavy lances. For most of the 19th century, Ville Platte held similar tournaments four or five times a year as major sporting events, which faded in popularity at the dawn of the 20th. Le Tournoi returned mid-century, eventually becoming a feature of the Cotton Festival, and has continued to this day, with knights on horseback racing a track while trying to spear the most rings; the winner receives his prize from the Queen and together they reign over the evening’s ball. As is clear from these photos, Leigh, the 60th Louisiana Tournoi Queen, is no slouch herself when it comes to horses--she can ride to her own rescue! And that's not the only arena in which she excels: she was named Calcasieu Parish Student of the Year in 2009.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Spotlight on the Cracklin Queen

An important cultural event for St. Landry Parish, the Port Barre Cracklin Festival is a weekend-long celebration of my favorite Cajun snack. (Alas, Cracklins reveal the dirty little secret behind all the best food down here: anything that tastes this sinfully delicious can’t possibly be good for you.) Local girl Brittany Soileau, crowned Miss Cracklin Festival Queen in November, presided over a weekend that included a parade, live music, prize drawings (above left), and a Cracklin Cook-Off, all to raise money for the local Lions Club. After the festival, the high school senior took to the highway to attend other festivals as a Visiting Queen, enjoying the camaraderie of spending time with her Rhinestone Sisters, including Teen Catfish queen Lindsey Burghdoff (above right).