Shrimp and Oil—A Winning Combination in Morgan City
by Terry Trahan Jr.
Over the next five days, residents of Morgan City will welcome over 120,000 visitors to the city’s Downtown Historic District for the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival.
The annual event, now in its 76th year, celebrates those who work in the shrimp and petroleum industries, which have served as the economic hub for the past few generations that have called the coastal community home.
“It brings in a lot of families, especially students who go away to college,” said Lee Delaune, the director of the festival, who has led the organization of the event for the past five years. He and a team of board members and volunteers begin planning in January.
The festival includes five days of music, food and culture held over the Labor Day weekend. This year’s event features a second stage for bands, an expanded arts and crafts show and more events for children.
“It’s the last hurrah,” Delaune said about the festival, which marks the end of summer for those seeking a few more days of fun in the sun before cooler temperatures arrive.
With 17 bands scheduled, festivalgoers will be able to enjoy a variety of local music. Most performances will take place in Lawrence Park, and a second stage has been added to give more bands a chance to perform. The new River Stage will host Voodoo Bayou at 7:45 on Sept. 2, and Déjà Vu at 7 p.m. on Sept. 3.
An expanded arts and crafts show will feature over 200 vendors beneath the Highway 90 overpass. Festival organizers extended the festival grounds to accommodate the artisans who wanted to participate in this year’s event.
Children will also be able to participate in more activities as they tag along for the 5-day event. The festival has partnered with the Audubon Nature Institute, which will bring the ZOOmobile and Wetland Wildlife Express to downtown Morgan City.
Other activities like carnival rides, a street parade and a children’s village will be available, in addition to what Delaune hopes will be a big attraction—aqua balls. The new activity allows a child to get inside of a clear ball that floats above a pool of water. The child spins and twirls in the ball, an action similar to a hamster running on a wheel. While Delaune would like adults to participate, the aqua balls will be limited to children.
“I saw it at a festival and knew we had to get it for our festival,” Delaune said.
Though new events have been added, the award-winning festival has not abandoned the attractions that have contributed to its popularity in south Louisiana and around the globe. The Cajun Culinary Classic will continue to offer samples of local cuisine, a bass tournament will take place in Stephensville, participants will compete in a 5K run/walk, a cultural and heritage expo will educate visitors on the shrimp and petroleum industries, and a Mass will be celebrated in Lawrence Park.
The Sunday morning church service is what Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte said he most looks forward to. He said he enjoys the traditional Sunday activities, which also include the Blessing of the Fleet on the Atchafalaya River. The evening ends with a fireworks display over the river at 9 p.m.
“It’s just a good time,” Matte said. “I think that’s why we like the festival so much.”
Morgan City’s residents have been celebrating the shrimp harvest since 1936, when locals from the Gulf Coast Seafood Producers and Trappers Association paraded through the city’s streets to celebrate a safe, successful shrimp harvest. A year later, the Blessing of the Fleet tradition started as a way to bestow the Lord’s blessing upon ships and their crews.
“That’s how it all began,” Delaune said about the annual blessing.
In 1967, oil joined shrimp in the festival’s title, and the city began celebrating the way both industries work together to support the community. Over 40 years later, thousands of festivalgoers pour into the city’s downtown streets to continue the celebration and experience the area’s rich culture.
“All of it’s in walking distance once you get onto the grounds,” Delaune said.
And that’s the benefit of hosting the state’s oldest chartered harvest festival in a smaller community. It becomes an atmosphere where the fisherman and the oil pipeline worker can dance the night away, celebrate Mass the next morning, and sit down together with their families for lunch.
“You can’t fry shrimp without oil,” Delaune said.