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2015-09-24

After 35 years, good times still rollin' at Cajun Fest

By Barbara Louise Engel

You're never too old or young to cut a rug to continuous Cajun and zydeco music from two stages at the Medina Lake Cajun Festival, on tap from 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday, Sept. 26 at the Lakehills Civic Center.

By Barbara Louise Engel
Special to the Courier

Lively sounds of Cajun and Zydeco music fill the air – making feet tap and hearts happy as the crowd dances, smiles and laughs.
Heavenly aromas of gumbo, crawfish étouffeé, crawfish pies, fried catfish, Cajun popcorn shrimp, red beans and rice, bread pudding with whiskey sauce – and much more – fill the air. But, those who think, “I must be in Lafayette, Louisiana, or maybe I have just died and gone to heaven,” are mistaken.
No, this is the Medina Lake Cajun Festival held in Lakehills each year the fourth Saturday in September. The Medina Lake Betterment Association, Inc., a nonprofit civic organization, celebrates the culture of Louisiana’s Cajun country by recreating a little bit of Louisiana deep in the heart of Texas. This year, the magic unfolds from 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday, Sept. 26.
This marks the 35th year of the Medina Lake Cajun Festival, which was inaugurated in 1981 as the brainchild of a New Orleans transplant, Bob Caswell.
At that time, the Lakehills Civic Center on Park Road 37 was about to enter foreclosure and a fundraiser was desperately needed to keep the doors of the modest building open. Various ideas were discussed, including a chili cook-off, until a strange accent from the back suggested, “Why don’t we try something different? How about a gumbo cook-off?”
Since no one could think of a better idea, that September the first “Great Gumbo Cook-off” was bravely held. Now mind you, Cajun food was not the rage that it is now, and most Texans thought crawfish were fit only for fish bait. Paul Prudhomme had not really hit the scene, and Emeril Lagasse was probably still in diapers – or at least still in New York.
Nevertheless, people were intrigued and turned out for the gumbo, and funds were raised to pay the mortgage for the year.
Each year, the event became more successful as volunteers prepared authentic Cajun food, and a few small Cajun bands were brought in. Arts and crafts and games were added, and more and more people attended the gumbo cook-off at Medina Lake.
Wonder of wonders, some of them actually liked to eat crawfish, but truthfully, in the early years more barbequed items than crawfish pies were sold.
In 1990, the name of the event was changed to the Medina Lake Cajun Festival to reflect the event’s expanded scope. Big name, top quality Cajun bands from Louisiana were recruited, and volunteer Cajun cooks expanded the menu of the Cajun food, sparing no effort or expense in its preparation.
People descended on the Cajun food booth like hungry locusts, and crawfish pies sold out in hours. Contestants in the “Great Gumbo Cook-off” dished up servings of gumbo numbering in the thousands. Cooks still vie for the title of chef supreme in amateur, professional and culinary students divisions, but visitors remain the winners as they sample this rich and mysterious Louisiana concoction.
This year’s festival promises to keep serving up great food and fun, with Cajun and Zydeco bands from Louisiana on two stages, and dancing all day long. Admission is just $10, with children ages 10 years and under admitted free. As they say in Louisiana, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”
To learn more about the Medina Lake Cajun Festival, visit www.cajunfestival-medinalake.com or call 830-751-3130. Also, “Like” us on www.facebook.com/medinalakecajunfestival.