The Daily Advertiser, Artist Mention >>
For a few moments, Michelle Maynard and Selena Degeytair reminisce about how things used to be.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the amount of work that we were required to do," Maynard said. "I don't know what would have happened if it wouldn't have been for Selena and three other women like her that would come up to me and say, 'You better go make some black beans with no pork.'"
"And I would tell her to put some cumin in it to make it taste good," Degeytair said, laughing while giving a wag of her finger. "It was so bland when she cooked those beans the first few times. I would have to go and doctor that up."
Maynard and Degeytair are two longtime Festival International volunteers. Maynard has been working with the festival for the past seven years. Degeytair's first year with Festival was '91.
"One year, I carried five shirts," Degeytair said. "At that time, the different departments had different color shirts. I had the transportation shirt, one for artist assistance, artist check-in ... I've done everything."
You won't find them on the downtown streets in a golf cart these days, transporting artists or helping set up booths.
On Saturday morning, these two women are in a boardroom in the Crowne Plaza hotel off Pinhook Road, making sure the Festival International musicians get enough to eat and drink for breakfast.
The women are two of many volunteers who have carried on the tradition at Festival International to make the incoming musicians feel at home.
In the past, they've cooked fish stews past dinnertime for a band just getting off the stage.
They've made hundreds of sandwiches with and without pork.
They've helped find lost band members in the middle of downtown Lafayette.
They've diagnosed lead singers who are sick and can't eat, and gotten them what they needed before going on stage.
They're these artists' mothers away from home.
"After a while, they used to call me 'Mama,'" Degeytair said. "We try to make them feel as welcome as if they were in our own homes."
Degeytair is sitting at a table to the left. Her coffee cup has been empty for the last half-hour. In her early 70s, she enjoys conversation and sharing a laugh.
"(Michelle) is the only reason I'm here this morning," Degeytair said, before joking. "Michelle is OK, even if she's from New Orleans."
If there was a job to be done with Festival International, Degeytair has probably done it.
"I have seen myself get up at 4 a.m. in the first years of Festival International to start cooking breakfast downtown," Degeytair said. "Sometimes, I didn't go to bed till midnight because I was doing transportation and artist assistance in the evening."
She's enjoying the time off for now, but tomorrow, she'll help Maynard get things together for the Pot Luck to the World dinner, a Festival-ending feast Maynard has presided over, featuring dishes from local businesses like Prejean's, Jolie's, Blue Dog Café, and at least 10 more.
Maynard is at the head of the table, her eyes darting back and forth, watching to see if the talent has everything they need. Her blonde hair is pulled back with a headband. She's not stressed, but she has a lot of chores on her mind and a leather folder full of to-do lists.
She doesn't want credit. She's a busy woman here and everywhere else as an independent event planner and manager who works with five other festivals in New Orleans, New York and Florida. She wants people to know about the women who did this before her.
"There are so many women who came before me who have truly been the Festival mamas "» before the Internet, before cellphones, before anything like that," Maynard said. "These women would get up in the middle of the night and go take care of some lost soul downtown."
As she gives predecessors respect, Lindigo's videographer — a skinny man, holding a broken camera lens — interrupts her. After a few moments of French language back-and-forth, she re-enters her interview.
"We're going to have to find him a place to fix the camera, so he can go and video his band," Maynard said. "That's not a personal issue, but it's little things like that. There are a lot of times where I can't take care of them. Usually, I'm much meaner. In the back of my mind, I know what my schedule is today. I know what part of town I'm going to, and I know there's a camera store nearby. I don't mind. If he comes, he can help me with the food, and we can go see about his camera. There's always a calculation like that." 04/28/12 >> go there