City getting new Franco festival

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LEWISTON – The joie is returning.

Five months after organizers announced the end of the annual Festival de Joie, plans have been unveiled for a new Lewiston festival aimed at celebrating French heritage.

Its name: Festival FrancoFun.

Details are still being worked out, from which entertainers will perform to what foods will be served. And the name itself is undergoing a copyright search, just to check that no one else is using it.

However, a committee of 10 people has picked the dates: Aug. 3 though Aug. 6. And it has its venues: the Franco-American Heritage Center and the Colisee.

The center will produce the four-day event.

“It was important not to let the celebration of our heritage die,” said Rita Dube, the Franco center’s executive director. “No one wanted to see the Festival de Joie go.”

It was popular, sometimes drawing as many as 12,000 people during its formal three-day schedule and thousands more for its accompanying prelude and parade.

However, its leaders and volunteers were getting tired. Many of the needed 150 volunteers were in their 70s.

“They were burned out,” Dube said. “It was natural for the Franco Center to take over.”

Lionel Guay, who ran the Festival de Joie for most of its 13 years, said he was glad Dube and the others stepped forward.

He has offered his advice, though he won’t be an organizer.

“I can’t do it anymore,” said Guay, the 65-year-old Lewiston mayor. “But I am glad it’s going to continue.”

The new committee was formed last November, following the announcement that the Festival de Joie was done.

At first, the aim of its 10 or so members was to begin a new festival that would be small. Then the suggestions started coming.

They began with the acts that came with regular audiences, such as “Just Us” and perennial headliner La Tournee du Bonheur with Jean-Guy Piche.

Then, Jeff Schumacher, the manager of the Colisee, called, suggesting that the city-owned arena take part.

Committee members figured Piche might do well at there. He’s a showman, whose act includes standing on tables and sitting on women’s laps.

“He’s been the biggest draw at the festival for many years,” said Richard Martin, a committee member and the Franco center’s event manager.

Two performances of Martin’s musical, “Lewiston – A New Home,” were also added to the schedule.

Breakfasts and brunches – complete with crepes, a Festival de Joie staple – helped fill out the remaining time.

Soon, the new festival ballooned to four days.

“It started small,” Dube said. “It really did.”

It still is likely to be smaller than the Festival de Joie, which took over Lewiston’s Railroad Park for the past few years. It had as many as four stages, sometimes featuring simultaneous performances.

“There won’t be so many acts,” Dube said. “And there won’t be any vendors.”

For now, Dube and the rest of the committee plans to firm up plans with performers, begin collecting names of volunteers and work on a logo with the new name.

The name, Festival FrancoFun, is a kind of play on words. A “francophone” is someone who speaks French.

“The festival will celebrate the French heritage,” Dube said, “but it’ll be open to everyone.”

Festival FrancoFun

Aug. 3,4,5,6

Franco-American Heritage Center & The Colisee

To volunteer, call the center at 783-1585

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