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By Herb Sparrow GROUP TRAVEL LE ADER T H E FRENCH QUARTER FEST N E W O R L E A N S Visitors could be forgiven for thinking that New Orleans is home to one continuous festi- val; there is always something happening. The French Quarter Fest, held every April, is the world's largest showcase of Louisiana music and features four days of music, including the jazz and blues for which the region is famous. Originally a small neighborhood festival, it is now the second-largest event in the state after Mardi Gras and includes more than 1,700 local musicians. Over 60 local restaurants also participate, serving "The World's Largest Jazz Brunch" in Jackson Square. Event marketing manager Rebecca Sell said the French Quarter Fest is special because it provides "a very authentic New Orleans experi- ence." She noted that not only does it attract large numbers of out-of-town guests, it is also consistently voted a favorite event by locals. Because the event does attract so many peo- ple, Sell advises groups to book their hotels early. "Many people will make their reservations at the end of one festival to come back the next year, so it is never too early to book," she said. WWW.FQFI.ORG/FRENCHQUARTER FRENCH QUARTER FEST By Zack Smith, courtesy French Quarter Fest Courtesy Bayou Lafource Area CVB THIBODAUXVILLE FALL FESTIVAL THIBODAUXVILLE FALL FESTIVAL T H I B O D A U X For those wanting to enjoy a true celebra- tion of bayou lifestyle, the Thibodauxville Fall Festival is a must. It is held every November in Lafourche Parish, also known as Louisiana's Cajun Bayou. With the bayou running the length of the parish, it is a "cultural identity that is engrained in who we are," said Timothy Bush, president of the Bayou Lafourche Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. He described the event as "an arts festival and the biggest block party you've ever attended." Besides the music, arts fair and duck race featuring more than 2,000 rubber ducks, the highlight of the weekend is the food. Groups should plan to come to town a day early so they can enjoy Big Boy's Main Street Cook Off, a showcase of Cajun cuisine with more than 45 teams competing to produce the best regional dishes. The Thibodauxville Fall Festival attracts more than 15,000 people each year and can be easier on the budget than the bigger New Orleans festivals or a fun stop on the way to the Big Easy. WWW.LACAJUNBAYOU.COM CONTRABAND DAYS L A K E C H A R L E S Hoist the mainsail at the Contraband Days Louisiana Pirate Festival, 11 days of fun on the shores of Lake Charles. According to local lore, legendary pirate Jean Lafitte came ashore at this spot and buried his treasure. Each May, the festival opens with a re-enactment that includes local citizens trying to defend their town against the marauding pirates. "The Contraband Days Louisiana Pirate Festival is a tradition in Southwest Louisiana, with the event celebrating its 60th anniversary this year," said Angie Manning, communica- tions director at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The storming of the seawall is always great fun for everyone as the pirates sail in while the city's militia defends the seawall. Ultimately, the pirates make the Lake Charles mayor walk the plank, and that commences the festivities with music, food, carnival rides and multiple events on land and sea."