Sweet Weekend Plans
Small-town charm at a big festival
One of the greatest festivals in the world is happening this weekend. Louisiana food, culture and music will tempt your taste buds and have you dancing in the grass. It draws thousands of tourists to town and gives locals a reprieve from their normal routines. Sure, there’s traffic and the lines can be long, but it’s all worth it when you bite into one of those deep-fried strawberries. What’s that? You thought I was describing French Quarter Fest? Well sure, I’ll be there too, but I always carve out a bit of the weekend and head to Ponchatoula, Louisiana for its annual Strawberry Festival.
Located about an hour northwest of New Orleans on I-55, Ponchatoula is a sleepy little town of less than 7,000 residents. But each April the “Strawberry Capital of the World” swells with visitors who revel in all things strawberry. Friday, April 13 features evening events beginning at 5:15 p.m. with the introduction of Strawberry Royalty. Wearing one of my favorite crown designs of the Louisiana festival royalty circuit which features rhinestone strawberries and their flowers, Louisiana Strawberry Queen XLVII Gina Recotta will address her subjects. Four bands on two stages will the play into the night.
Saturday, April 14 from 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. and Sunday, April 15 from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. bring the biggest crowds and the most options for fun.
Saturday morning at 9:30 the Strawberry Festival Parade will roll down Pine St. and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a loaf of Bunny White Bread. I don’t know why this happens, and I have put it in the category of facts I call, “Weird things that happen in Louisiana that I love and don’t need to know why.”
The vendors will be bustling with just about every item you imagine is sold at a fair: koozies, ashtrays, hammocks, tooled leather purses, airbrushed t-shirts, camouflaged everything, fruity scented candles, silver jewelry, garden décor and cheeky yard signs. More than 50 amusement rides are set up for the thrill-seekers, and for the dexterous and gluttonous an egg toss and strawberry eating contest take place on both Saturday and Sunday.
The food vendors bring their A-game and offer Louisiana specialties, fair favorites and strawberry-themed items. I wasn’t kidding about the deep-fried strawberries. They are delicious and you must try one. Gumbo, fried shrimp, alligator sausage, seafood-stuffed pistolettes, strawberry pie, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry preserves, strawberry ice cream… you get the picture.
For the grown-ups, there are also fresh strawberry daiquiris, strawberry wine and strawberry beer. Be sure to stop at Paul’s Old Town Café, located at 100 E. Pine St., for one of their daiquiris. I look forward to one every year. They also offer an alcohol-free version that is delightful.
Not directly part of the festival, but a great activity to include, is perusing the antique stores that are located downtown in walking-distance from the main festival grounds. Quite a few dot Pine St., and CJ’s Antiques at 160 SE Railroad Ave. offers 15,000 square feet of treasures. The Harley Davidson-riders usually park near there, so if you are a motorcycle enthusiast be sure to walk by to admire the bikes as well.
And just because you can, grab a photo with Ole Hardhide, the live alligator who lives in a cage on Pine St. near SE Railroad Ave., and with the new strawberry sculpture located across from City Hall.
Two stages at the primary festival grounds (the intersection of N. 6th St. and W. Beech St.) feature bands over the three days of the festival.
Friday, April 13
5:15 p.m. – Introduction of Strawberry Royalty
5:30 p.m. – Nashville South
8:15 p.m. – Category 6
5:00 – Weathered
7:45 p.m. – Pick 6
Saturday, April 14
11:30 a.m. – Egg Toss
11:45 a.m. – Louisiana Spice
1:45 p.m. – Strawberry Eating Contest
2:15 p.m. – After Hours
4:15 p.m. – Strawberry Auction
5:30 p.m. – The Dominoes
8:30 p.m. – Triggerproof
12:30 p.m. – Lindsey Cardinale
3:00 p.m. – The Issue
5:45 p.m. – Louisiana LeRoux
8:00 p.m. – Chase Tyler Band
Sunday, April 15
11:00 a.m. – Egg Toss
11:15 a.m. – About Last Night
12:45 p.m. – Strawberry Eating Contest
1:30 p.m. – Wiseguys
4:00 p.m. – Bag of Donuts
11:00 a.m. – The Strays
1:30 p.m. – Mothership
3:30 p.m. – The Topcats