Dancin' A Happy Jig

April 17, 2009


   The Bayou Teche Bear and Birding Festival kicks off today on the bayou side in downtown Franklin.
   The usual fare is on tap: Education, entertainment and cuisine! No, we don’t eat bears at the festival, they’re federally protected. But there’ll be plenty more to sample.
   This is the sixth festival, and part of the things going on in this area that are important to our future. It’s not enough that we, the locals, go out and support it, we have to spread the word and get more people to come visit.
   The weather is “iffy” at best, but with a good supply of positive energy, maybe we can keep the rain at bay.
   So come on out! It’s gonna be fun.
   A mega-bodacious, emphatic hats off to the city.
   In advance of the Bear Festival the busted lamp globes have been replaced as of early this morning. Cleco also gets a hearty pat on the back.
   Thank you! Now we’re putting our best face forward for this weekend’s event.
   An admission of error: When I fussed Wednesday about the globe being missing near Adams Street, it turns out it was not the same one that had been missing for weeks. It was on that same section of boulevard, but apparently the former had been replaced late last week and the latter busted over the weekend. I admit my mistake on that one.
   Already this morning I noticed at least three people strolling downtown who were clearly visitors.
   I could tell by the backpacks and their craning necks as they looked at our historic district with wide-eyed wonder. And the festival doesn’t start until this evening!
   Make no mistake about it: People are already coming to Franklin, many of them. And we’re going to get more, and we’re going to make them happy and they’ll spread the word.
   The group I’m involved with, Techeland Arts Council, is sponsoring a community seminar next weekend at the Teche Theater.
   Just to refresh your memories…our concept is based on that of Colquit, Georgia, a little community much, much smaller than Franklin that more than a decade ago was drying up and withering on the vine. A group of concerned citizens got together and vowed to save their town.
   In a leap of imagination and creativity they collected the oral traditions and history of Colquit and the surrounding area from its elders and anyone else who had recollections of the area. It took a lot of hard work, but they were able to create a distinctive, fascinating “history” of Colquit and turn it into a professionally-produced live performance.
   They started out with a $700 grant and a lot of energy. Today, the group maintains a budget of over $2 million and employs 60 people. The performances, called “Swamp Gravy” put another $2 million in the economy each year.
   It has revitalized and rejuvenated the town and surrounding area. People come from hundreds of miles, by busloads, to see “Swamp Gravy” and the living history of the community it represents. Each year, the story changes a bit, as more of the many, many stories they collected are incorporated into the drama. And it is a drama, based on history.
   The people from Colquit now come to local communities and teach them how to do what Colquit did. And that’s who’s coming to the Teche Theater next weekend.
   Friday they’ll give a presentation on just how they did what they did in Colquit, and show how we can do it too. Saturday we hope to begin to learn to gather stories from people here who have stories to tell.
   Gosh, do we have stories to tell? You know it.
   This thing is free but we’re urging pre-registration because seating is limited to 200. We ran a registration form in the Banner yesterday. You can get another at www.techeland.com. We’d love to have you there.
   Fifteen of us have been meeting for well over a year to get this thing going. We were interrupted by the last two hurricanes, since the conference was supposed to happen last fall. But we’re ready now, and we hope you’ll come.
   Oh, and as we struggled to come up with an interesting and unique name for what will eventually become our own performance, we finally settled on, No Hitchin’. Of course, this is derived from the inscription on all of downtown’s lampposts which clearly read DO NOT HITCH. A vestige of the old days when people tying their horses or livestock to the lamps must have been bothersome to the city, we have interpreted the message now in a different way: Life is a series of movements, a constant flow of change and adaptation. It may not be impossible to hitch up and remain static, but it’s far more rewarding to keep the reins free, and see where the next bend in the river, turn in the road and dream in our heads takes us.