By Wendy Lemlin
Elected official from Louisiana to experience ‘Gator’ first hand
How authentic is the Louisiana-themed joie de vivre evidenced at the annual Gator by the Bay Festival, happening May 11-14 at Spanish Landing Park?
So authentic that it caught the attention of Louisiana’s Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who has cleared his very busy schedule to attend the festival on all four days.
“I am so excited to come experience Gator By the Bay,” he enthused. “I’ve heard about this festival for several years and I truly appreciate that the Gator By the Bay team brings such a genuine taste of Louisiana — the music, the food, and the culture — to beautiful San Diego.
Nungesser said he’s also heard the local festival referenced as a “mini” version of the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
“I’m coming because I want to say thanks to San Diego for shining the spotlight on our wonderful culture and I’m happy to spend some of our state’s tourism dollars in your city.”
He said he is looking forward to enjoying the event, which promotes Louisiana’s culture and focuses on two of his state’s “most important exports,” food and music.
“We are so proud and honored that the lieutenant governor of Louisiana considers our festival so worthwhile that he would take four days out of his schedule and trek halfway across the country to join in the fun,” said Peter Oliver, Gator By the Bay organizer.
With approximately 100 musical performances — including Cajun, zydeco, blues, rockabilly, salsa and Americana — on seven stages throughout the four days, Gator By the Bay is unique among San Diego festivals.
Why Louisiana in San Diego? It’s all about the fun of dancing to the rollicking Cajun and zydeco music from the southwestern part of that state; it’s about the Mardi Gras spirit of New Orleans, with beads, boas and brass bands; and it’s about the tantalizing Cajun and Creole cuisine — including 10,000 pounds of fresh crawfish — available to be devoured at the festival.
Numerous Cajun- and zydeco-based music festivals are held throughout the U.S. these days, attracting thousands of people, many of who travel from one festival to the next. Gator By the Bay is widely acknowledged to be one of the largest, and expects to draw nearly 18,000 national and international enthusiasts, who will fill close to 1,500 San Diego hotel rooms over the four-day festival.
Noting that the “truly unique” music from his state has “a different sound” from most, Nungesser isn’t surprised that it resonates so strongly and has such a devoted following outside of Louisiana.
“It’s not something to sit and listen to, you have to get up and move around when you hear it, whether you’re a dancer or not,” he said. “It just makes you forget all your troubles and join in the joy.
“We have over 400 festivals in Louisiana and every year that number seems to increase,” he continued. “People flock to them. It’s the music and the food, but it is also the way we treat people that is really special. We embrace everyone like family. The love for life, expressed through our music and culture, translates into a formula for success [not only] in San Diego, [but also] Rhode Island, Toronto — anywhere.”
Having both visited San Diego on vacation a number of years ago and married his wife on Santa Monica’s beaches, Nungesser said he sees similarities between the Southern California and Louisiana lifestyles.
“There’s a free-spirit-ness and an emphasis on enjoying life in both our cultures,” he observed. “I’d like to see more collaboration in promoting tourism between our areas, both for the elements we have in common, and for our individual unique-nesses.”
To augment that collaboration in a most delicious way, the Louisiana Seafood Commission will be sponsoring cooking lessons and contributing seafood to the Culinary Demo tent, always a popular spot during the weekend.
Chef Nathan Richard of New Orlean’s Cavan Restaurant will be on hand to cook, share recipes, and give samples of his cuisine. Named one of Louisiana Cookin’ magazine’s “chefs to watch” for 2016, Richard is known for culinary creations influenced by his Cajun upbringing and the bounty of local ingredients.
Musical headliners from Louisiana appearing at Gator By the Bay this year include Grammy winner Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band; Grammy nominee Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie; and Grammy winner with multiple nominees, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Opening headliner on May 11 is Marcia Ball, who has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards over the years. The multitalented pianist, vocalist and songwriter — who specializes in boogie-woogie, blues and swing — was raised in Louisiana but now resides in Austin.