Thursday, February 26, 2015

By Angie Manning

When the CVB team embarked upon the task of showcasing not just "what" there is to experience in Southwest Louisiana, but really what it "feels" like to experience Southwest Louisiana through video, music also bubbled to the surface of the conversation. This corner of the state is showered with gifts from natural beauty to nature's bounty, and while it thrives with tradition, culture and mouthwatering cuisine, there is a sense of home mixed in with exciting nightlife. How can you capture all of that in a video?

My executive director, Shelley Johnson, and I felt that music was a huge part of the "My Southwest Louisiana Home" video project. How could we just pick an existing song to complement something as personal and intimate as capturing the magic of a place we love so much?

We needed something original. Music sets the tone for the visual, and whenever thinking about who could write a song - like that - to evoke the spirit of the area and people, Wendy Colonna came to mind in an instant. Not only is Wendy from Southwest Louisiana, but she is a supremely talented songwriter who also happens to be a storyteller in her compositions.
Wendy Colonna and Angie Manning

For the video aspect, working with Adam Boozer and his team at Stowaway was completely seamless from concept to completion. Stowaway gets to the heart of the story of a destination, the emotion, smells, feelings, spirit of the people - those things that video cannot literally capture - need to somehow resonate for inspiring travel.

Adam Boozer of Stowaway
The CVB in Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana put together a one week shoot based on Adam's trip to scout the area and learn about our unique culture, and we were also able to partner with Parker Brand Creative. Thanks to many volunteers and partners in tourism and local talent, we were able to piece together a fantastic video to showcase the area.

Wendy, who currently resides in Austin, TX, is known for her signature voice of grit-infused-honey, and her songs echo swampy-southern tales of loss, mortality, joy, reclaimed innocence and celebration. Whenever filmmaker Adam Boozer of Stowaway, Wendy and I talked for the first time about the project of "My Southwest Louisiana Home," immediately, I could tell that this adventure was meant to be - all being on the same page artistically.

From start to finish, glimmers of lyrics and themes came to mind like ingredients being put into a giant gumbo pot. At the end of the day, the song came together and was absolutely seasoned to perfection by Wendy's ability to make sense of all the ideas.

Wendy came home to Lake Charles to record with Matt Moss (bass guitar), Brandon Ledet (accordion), Joel Savoy (fiddle), Sam Broussard (slide guitar) and Doug Gay (drums) - all Louisiana musicians. The song was recorded and mixed by Matt Moss at EMF Productions, located in Lake Charles Music Plaza.
The CVB is proud to have its first commissioned song, "My Southwest Louisiana Home."

Find out more from Wendy Colonna, the songwriter, in a two part interview by Austin Chronicle here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

 By Angie Kay Dilmore

Southwest Louisiana has no shortage of waterways – shimmering lakes, meandering rivers, mysterious bayous, cypress swamps, and salt grass marshes – and where there is water, there are boats. Sailboats, motorboats, bass boats, fishing trawlers, and pirogues . . . but me? I love to kayak!
Angie Dilmore poses in front of the Calcasieu River Bridge at the Cayenne Kayak Challenge.

Kayaking enables a paddler to go places other boats cannot navigate. You can squeeze through narrow inlets and float across very shallow water. The slower pace of kayaking allows you to observe more of the beautiful surroundings of southwest Louisiana. The only sound a kayaker makes (unless he/she is conversing with a friend) is the quiet swoosh of the paddle through the water; therefore wildlife is not spooked as you approach. This provides plenty of opportunities to see birds, alligators, turtles, and other animals in their natural habitats.
Angie Dilmore kayaks on Indian Bayou.
In my home state of Pennsylvania, I never would have dreamed of kayaking. In the northeast, kayaking is a completely different sport, fraught with danger and a bit too much excitement for my cautious sensibilities. But after moving to Lake Charles in 2007 and discovering all the (calm) water options, I wanted to learn to paddle, though I didn't know how to get started. 

Pelican Paddlers
Then I discovered a fantastic group in town called the Pelican Paddlers. They welcomed me, taught me about the different kinds of kayaks, showed me kayaking techniques and rescue maneuvers, and brought me along on trips. They allowed me to borrow boats until I determined which kayak was the best boat for me. 

Sunset on Prien Lake after an evening paddle. By Angie Dilmore
The Paddlers meet every Wednesday evening during daylight savings time (March 8-November 1 in 2015) at Prien Lake Park at the kayak boat launch, 6 p.m. They also plan one or two weekend trips a month, including an occasional night paddle.

In the fall, the Club has an event called The Cayenne Kayak Challenge near the Lake Charles North Shore Beach. Activities include a skills relay race, a race around the perimeter of Lake Charles, burgers and hot dogs, awards, and door prizes.
Boats lined up along the shore of Lake Charles. Photo by Angie Dilmore
Kayak Rentals
If you are interested in renting a kayak, call Bayou Kayak Rentals at 337-802-6781 or 337-476-0398 or Lloyd’s Country Store at 337-540-3925.

Purchasing a Kayak 
Several stores in the Lake Area sell kayaks. For personalized knowledgeable advice and service, check out Ship to Shore on Lake St. Other stores include Dick’s, Academy, and West Marine. There are so many options to consider when buying a kayak. Do you want a sit-on-top or a sit-inside? How do you want to use a kayak – will you paddle 10-15 miles for a workout or peacefully fish in the middle of a lake? I advise anyone interested in buying a kayak to do some research, talk to experts, and “test-drive” several models before making a purchase. A kayak has to “fit” you and be comfortable. Cost can be an issue, but remember, regarding kayaks, you truly get what you pay for.

Angie Dilmore paddled the Calcasieu River near Sam Houston Jones State Park.
Best Spots to Paddle
There is no end to the number of different places one can kayak in southwest Louisiana. Some fortunate Louisianians who live near the water can paddle from their own backyards! For others, popular paddling places include the West Fork of the Calcasieu River from either Sam Houston Jones State Park or Holbrook Park; Indian Bayou (also near Sam Houston Jones State Park); the marsh at the southern end of Nelson Road; Prien Lake Park; Bayou d’Inde. For dolphin spotting, launch a kayak at the ship channel in Cameron Parish near the ferry. 

Angie Dilmore kayaked in the ship channel near the shrimp boats in Cameron.
Packing List
Wherever you choose to paddle, bring plenty of water and a snack, a cell phone for emergencies, a camera, and binoculars for watching the wildlife. Take your time and bask in the beauty of southwest Louisiana. And ALWAYS wear a PFD (personal flotation device).

For more information about the Pelican Paddlers, call me at 337-240-8380.

To read more of Angie's adventures, check out her blog,
Thursday, February 5, 2015
I can smell the barbecue pork that’s already smoking on the pit as we meet at the KC Hall, 503 E. Highway 90, in the town of Iowa, Louisiana, around 9 a.m. to pay our $10 fee to ride in the parade. 
Smoked meats like sausage and tasso are popular in Cajun Country.

Everyone is milling around in their Courir de Mardi Gras costumes made of rags and visiting as final preparations are made with the decorations on the trailers.

Cory Cart and Lysa Allman-Baldwin enjoy the festivities atop bales
of hay in the back of a trailer on the parade route!

We are in the small town of Iowa, Louisiana for the Iowa Chicken Run on Mardi Gras Day.  The parade rolls at 10 a.m.
We stop throughout the community with the trucks and trailers, ATVs, and people on horseback and beg for ingredients to make a gumbo.  It’s an ancient tradition of begging where the revelers go from house to house dancing to live Zydeco music for the owners to lend them ingredients for the communal gumbo to be made later that evening.

The parade stops at a member of the community's home while Zydeco music
is played and everyone dances.  If the family approves the dancing skills,
they donate ingredients for the gumbo.
Right as the captain stops the parade at a particular home and blows his whistle, he tosses a chicken in the air and the children in the parade chase the chicken!  There is a lot of whooping, hollering and dancing that takes place during the process! It’s quite an honor to catch the chicken. 

Children chase the chickens in Iowa, La.

Lee Peck with KPLC-TV interviews the child who caught the first chicken.

 It’s a family affair.  Rodney Victorian, Berline and Kimmy Bellard welcome us with open arms.  There’s no pomp and circumstance or sequined costumes. This is a true, Cajun Country Mardi Gras with laughter, festivity and music that gets your adrenaline pumping.

Berline Bellard encourages the cook stirring the gumbo pot.

My favorite part about the Iowa Chicken Run is how it cuts through the lines of age, race and socioeconomics. There is no king or queen.  The chicken run exemplifies true community spirit and living life to the fullest.

 *Note: The chickens are not actually used in the gumbo but the tradition of chasing the chicken is a throwback to the ancient French medieval history of the Courir de Mardi Gras where the highlight of the entire celebration was the last ingredient – the chicken.  

For more information on the Iowa Chicken Run, click here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

By Elizabeth Eustis

King cake spinoffs have become a seasonal trend. Everything from king cake hamburger buns to boudin king cakes  are being seen in Louisiana.  There are even local businesses creating their own Mardi Gras masterpieces.

Photo by David Hill
I came across a Facebook post by Botsky’s talking about king cake sweet potato fries. I basically ran down there, and y’all - these fries are amazing! Owner Michael Krajicek calls them Krewe de Patate Douce (Krewe of the Sweet Potato) and they not only have the traditional purple, green and gold sugar sprinkled on top, but they smell just like a fresh king cake!

Botsky's Krewe de Patete Douce

Pops and Rockets released their king cake popsicle, Alive and King Cake (a play on Simple Minds’ hit “Alive and Kicking”). This fresh treat has all the flare of Mardi Gras with bold cinnamon spice and cool cream cheese.  Check it out at the Cash and Carry Farmer's Market!

Pops and Rockets' Alive and King Cake Popsicle

I have also heard people talk about a king cake cheesecake from SweetChic Cupcakes. To me, this version is all the wonderfulness of the rich, creamy filling of at king cake but with less bread which means I CAN EAT MORE! Who can argue with that?!
SweetChic's King Cake Cheesecake

To complete my Mardi Gras spinoff feast, I found Community Coffee’s Mardi Gras King Cake flavored coffee, Blue Bell’s Mardi Gras King Cake ice cream, and  Abita Mardi Gras Bock.

But let’s not forget about the traditional king cake. These cakes originated in Europe as part of Epiphany celebrations held 12 nights after Christmas. Louisiana Creoles began serving the cakes of bioche dough (yeast, butter and eggs) at Twelfth Night balls. The person receiving the lucky slice, which concealed an object (usually a ring or bean), was crowned king or queen of the ball. Throughout the years, the king cake tradition has endured. The cakes are available in every bakery and supermarket during Carnival season and are as varied as the customers who choose them.

King cakes are special pastries unique to our culture and will always hold a dear place in my heart. For a chance to win a traditional king cake in time for Fat Tuesday, visit www.visitlakecharles/kingcake to enter the King Cake Sweepstakes!

Monday, February 2, 2015
The Royal Gala in Lake Charles, LA
by Glenn Kaufmann
Photo by
From elaborate headpieces, to flowing gowns, crowns, and scepters, Mardi Gras krewes outfit their royal courts in the best and brightest royal regalia. And, if the Royal Gala is any indication, nobody takes Mardi Gras costumes more seriously than the people of Lake Charles, in southwestern Louisiana, where more than 60 krewes (parading organizations) show off their Mardi Gras finery on the night before Mardi Gras day.

Photo by
Each year, the Mardi Gras krewes of Southwest Louisiana put on a colossal costume pageant that is open to the public, providing many with their only opportunity to see these grand creations.  Often, the royal regalia (costumes) are only worn at private (krewe and guest only) balls and functions. As a result, the Royal Gala (the exception to the rule) is not so much a competition as it is a community celebration, and a chance to show off the year’s designs and handiwork.
Photo by
Krewe members work year-round (sometimes beginning to design and build the next year’s costumes the day after the previous year’s Fat Tuesday celebration). Some krewes display just a couple of costumes (e.g. king and queen), while others present a dozen or more towering beaded headdresses perched atop the king, queen, dukes, duchesses, and other members of their royal court. The costumes are often 12 to 15 feet tall and weigh a hundred pounds or more. Yet these creations are the pride and joy of Lake Charles, and krewe members compete for the honor of wearing them as proud representatives of their organization. 
Photo by
The Royal Gala is a full evening of entertainment, as literally hundreds of ornate Mardi Gras costumes are presented to a packed auditorium of celebrants eager to embrace the Mardi Gras spirit. Held each year on Lundi Gras night (the night just before Fat Tuesday), the energy, revelry, and mayhem of the Royal Gala are a great way to warm up and get in the spirit of Mardi Gras before the next day's events.

Up Close and Personal at the Lake Charles
Mardi Gras Museum
While the Royal Gala is an ideal introduction to the costumes, headpieces, and royal accoutrements of the Mardi Gras krewes, spectators at the event can only get so close to the finery. But, just a few miles away at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, anyone with a few dollars to spare can see hundreds of costumes from years gone by, and learn a great deal about the design process in the bargain.

Glenn Kaufmann is the editor and publisher of All About Mardi Gras, a website that covers Mardi Gras across the united States.