Story by Lana Lawson, Sophomore at International High School.
On November 16 in Louis Armstrong Park, there was a little something for everyone—whether you came for food or just to sit and listen to music. That Saturday was the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival and Congo Square Rhythms Festival, and you could attribute the variety of activities to the fact that it was the first year that the two festivals combined.
But if you came just to taste all the different types of gumbo, it would’ve taken you a while, with lines at about a 30-minute wait each. So if you didn’t feel like waiting an insane amount of time for food, you could go and check out all of the vendors who were selling homemade items.
Trish Ransom is a vendor originally from California, who currently resides in New Orleans. She had a booth called Debris, where she sold jewelry and room decorations made of found items she collected from around the city. What this means is that she finds materials that are thrown away or recycled, cleans them, makes something out of them, and then puts them up for sale.
Ransom started off by making bottle cap earrings and then progressed to making fish and other animals out of old materials. “I love doing festivals in New Orleans because I meet people from all around the world,” Ransom said. “It’s really fun and interesting; at every door there’s an adventure.”
Another vendor named Annie Odell sells items made from neckties—like skirts and portrait quilts. She also makes New Orleans-inspired crawfish earrings and okra alligator Christmas ornaments. She was inspired after selling ties at her children’s school’s annual garage sale, where she wound up with too many left overs. She eventually came up with the idea to make those ties into skirts. Each skirt takes Odell around 12 hours to sew.
“I never expected to be doing this,” Odell said. “I just take [it] step by step. I have a passion for doing this and I love the camaraderie with all the other artists.” Odell does around 15 to 20 New Orleans festivals a year. “I love the adventure of doing festivals,” Odell added.
Ragan Griller-Willis is a vendor that sells Native American-inspired items such as moccasins, earrings, and bracelets. Willis says that she was inspired by her (Native American) culture to make and sell these things. She and her husband work at home together to make the items to sell and they do many festivals around Louisiana like Jazz Fest and the Cajun Zydeco Festival.
One of the common threads among the vendors was that they love doing New Orleans festivals because of the experience and the people they encounter. There were around 20 vendors there, each with something special to catch the attention of people casually passing by, like pottery, paintings, jewelry, clothing, and soaps
Many of the vendors saw the long lines for gumbo as a good thing because it gave people an opportunity to look at their goods. Some vendors not only sell at festivals, but also sell their goods for their main job. Several vendors even said it was possible to make a living in New Orleans just as a festival vendor because of how many events there are.
There even was a spiritual cleanser named Solomon who gets rid of bad spirits. He was selling potions and Voodoo healing items. He got into Voodoo because of his parents and his stepmother, who is from Haiti. Solomon believes that when you have bad things happening to you it’s because of bad energy.
“The movies portray Voodoo as an energy that hurts people. Voodoo is worship, dancing, honoring ancestors, becoming one with nature, and community service,” Solomon said.
It’s funny how a festival about food and music easily became a festival about the unique items sold at the booths.
If you came to the Treme Creole Gumbo/Congo Square Rhythms Festival to try all of the different available gumbos then you were out of luck, since it would’ve taken several hours. Next time you go to a New Orleans festival, try supporting a vendor. Each one sells different items with unique tales behind them. You’ll end up walking away with a more than an object that someone made, but also a piece of their story.