Festivals of Jefferson Parish
The growing acclaim of Family Gras and The Gretna Heritage Festival
When it comes to festivals, concerts and big name performances, the New Orleans area has made an international name for itself, especially during Mardi Gras. In Metairie, Family Gras is no exception. Family Gras is Jefferson Parish’s premier festival season event featuring live music, artwork, interactive games for children and a perfect spot to soak up the Mardi Gras experience.
“About 11 years ago, Aaron Broussard asked for my help in creating a signature event that would attract more people to Mardi Gras in Jefferson Parish,” said Greg Buisson, owner of Buisson Creative, the advertising agency that runs Family Gras alongside the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau (JCVB).
“So, we named it Family Gras, giving us a chance to brand our carnival as ‘the family carnival’ — the place you bring the entire family, whether they’re eight or eighty,” Buisson said. “Everyone who comes out here knows they’re going to be safe, they know they’re going to see a really great pageantry show for carnival, and they’re going to get to see our stunning carnival concerts that tie it all together. Plus, it’s free.” The festival quickly entwined itself into the traditions of many Mardi Gras-going families — not just in Jefferson Parish, but from all over the world.
“The first year, we brought in a crowd of about 10,000 people,” Buisson said. “It’s been growing exponentially each year, and now we have an event that attracts 120,000 people from 12 different countries and just about every state in the U.S., bringing an economic impact of about $7 million to Jefferson Parish. The JCVB will get phone calls as far out as eight months before the festival from people all over asking about the lineup and booking hotels for their families.”
These callers are right to ask. Family Gras has grown notorious for booking rising artists just before their careers skyrocket. In 2008, just before the release of her first chart topping song, Fearless, Taylor Swift headlined at Family Gras. In 2009, just months after their song Chicken Fried reached number one on the Billboard Country Charts, The Zac Brown Band played an energy-packed show at Family Gras. Family Gras gets to the famous before fame does, and sometimes even afterward with artists like Leann Rimes, The Monkees and The Pointer Sisters.
“Family Gras is the most unusual festival in this sense: Most festivals you go to are either all country, all rock and roll, all adult contemporary, all pop, all electric, etc. But we have something for everyone, and it is constantly changing, so we actually see throngs of people come in to watch an act and then move into the parade route while a new throng of people come in for the next act. It’s a really fascinating festival, and is a ton of fun for everyone involved,” said Buisson.
Gretna Heritage Festival
Each year, as the anticipation of Fall season begins to break up the hot lull of summer, Jefferson Parish residents start thinking about one thing: The Gretna Heritage Festival. Gretna Heritage Festival is the West Bank’s award-winning 23-year-old annual event that has hosted countless A-list musical artists.
“Not many people know this, but 23 years ago The Gretna Heritage Festival started as a project of the Gretna Economic Development Association (GEDA),” said former President of the GEDA and current District 1 Councilman, Ricky J. Templet. “The main purpose, 23 years ago, was to be able to create an opportunity for our local nonprofit groups to raise funds for their community-sustaining organizations. So, we decided to create one day of community involvement where we could get people excited about the community.”
“We had one stage and three bands that donated their time, and about 400 people showed up. Now, our purpose is still the same and has been quite successful. We have about 40 nonprofits that are a part of the now three-day festival, with five stages bringing in about 50 bands including headliners like KISS and Huey Lewis and the News,” said Templet.
The event has become a staple of Gretna tradition and brings in thousands of people every year. The festival takes up 25 city blocks, encompassing businesses, houses and government buildings. It consumes the city, creating a living entity — a spirit that brings the community together.
“The restaurants, the bars and the businesses in the area all become a part of the festival,” said Templet. “There are a lot of people who volunteer around the businesses and with the festival, and it really brings in a huge amount of business for them. It just kind of became a space of community involvement and tradition. For some people, it’s the time of year that their family comes to visit or the friends they made at the festival years ago come down, and that aspect of community is really unique.”
Inside the event, bands are playing a wide variety of music and art vendors are showing off their artisanship. However, there is also something unexpected: world themes. There are pockets in the event reminiscent of a Epcot-like experience. “There’s an Italian village that serves Italian food and plays Italian music,” Templet said. “It has a really authentic looking ambiance with lights and undergarments hanging from clothes lines. Then, there’s the German village which serves German beer and Bratwurst all weekend . This year, we opened a new beer garden by the river, and that was a huge hit.”
“All of this wouldn’t be possible without our hundreds of volunteers who donate their time, and from the law enforcement who make this one of the safest community events out there. Every year, it just gets better,” said Templet.