LSS: FESTIVAL volunteers create magic

Festival International has been a mainstay of Lafayette for 24 years

With a small paid staff, volunteers deserve much of the credit for the success of the event.

When asked for the reasons they keep coming back year after year, the faithful offer a familiar, but often rare, theme as their primary answer. It’s all about making real human connections — to people close to home and to people from far away.

The Duhon family epitomizes the Festival volunteer.

Peggy Duhon, a teacher at Scott Middle School, has been volunteering for 23 years. As artist transportation coordinator, she’s responsible for picking up musicians from airports and getting them to proper stages for performances.

Peggy doesn’t represent the Duhon family alone. At last count, 16 family members volunteer — all in transportation.

“We train them from babies. Not all of our family members drive for Festival, but they all volunteer,” she said. “Our nieces and nephews have come out with us since they were babies. Festival and helping are just a part of their lives.”

Duhon remembers feeding the artists in homes during the early years.

“Once we were at our parents’ house with a band. They played everything in the room. They banged on pipes. They put jars in rocks. My mother had a Christmas bugle on the wall, and they played it,” she said. “They took anything off the walls to make music. Music is part of their chemistry. I don’t remember the year or the band — or where they were from. I just remember the event. It was just so happy. So fun. When you have that experience, that’s what hooks you. You can’t buy that.”

Roger Smith of Lafayette is one of Duhon’s drivers. His reasoning for volunteering for Festival for the last 18 years is simple.

“I get to live like a rock star for a week and not have to travel,” he said. “I prefer the behind-the-scenes duties and not fight the crowds.”

Stacey Scarce, also of Lafayette and a transportation volunteer for 15 years, said her reasons for staying involved revolve around her service-oriented nature.

“But the reason I keep coming back to this is that this is the best part of the whole festival — hanging out with the artists,” she said. “A lot of the artists are coming from a place of spreading peace in the world — and I like that.”

Plus, Scarce said she likes to show people Acadiana.

“I like taking them to Lake Martin, showing them the animals, seeing the wildlife, letting them eat plants. To me, it makes me feel better about being here.”

Bobby Schexnayder of Meaux has volunteered 14 years.

“I love to meet the different people,” he said. “Bertrand Laurence came in one year. It was his first year and my first year. We clicked. Every year when he comes, he remembers me and I remember him.”

And as the good things in life so often do, his reasons for volunteering go back to making a real human connection.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears on Sundays. She can be reached at jan@janrisher.com.

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