By Rande Archer
Christmas in downtown Baton Rouge just got a whole lot brighter, with North Boulevard Town Square illuminating Friday night with a barrage of merry fireworks and a spiraling jolly display of lights paraded on a 35-foot Christmas tree. With the help of Mayor Kip Holden and WAFB’s Donna Britt, the calm and clear night was blasted with Christmas cheer at the press of a button after a festive entertainment line-up set the mood for the evening for the annual Festival of Lights.
Starting at 4 p.m., the evening began with a cool breeze from the river and a gorgeous sunset over the bridge. Entertainment provided by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge set the mood for the evening, with several local acts taking the stage before the Mayor’s address that culminated in a fantastic display. Children had the option of ice skating and snow sledding by the River Center for the night, in addition to witnessing the musical acts on the main stage. Entertainment was spread with some men on stilts who took pictures with children and one displaying and showing how to juggle.
“The turnout for Festival of Lights was fantastic,” said Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge President and CEO Renee Chatelain. “The beautiful weather and great events really drew great crowds. I have attended in years past, and I have to say, I think this was one of the most well-attended celebrations.”
In addition to helping with the entertainment, the Arts Council helped with the layout, lights and look for the night with the help of the Mayor and the Downtown Development District.
“The festival is really the brainchild of Mayor Kip Holden,” said Chatelain. “We work with the Downtown Development District to create the whole look and layout of the festival as well. The Arts Council coordinates all of the entertainment for the night, as well as lighting and sound, as well as coordinating the visual artists and some of the activities. The Baton Rouge River Center is a great partner, as well.”
After a healthy line up of musical talent on the stage which included sets by New Venture Theatre’s Soulful Sounds, Theatre Baton Rouge’s Carolers, Baton Rouge School of Visual and Performing Arts Choir, and the nights musical tradition, Ned Fasulo’s Big Band who jammed out some classic Christmas tunes before Mayor Holden took the stage. After addressing and thanking the crowd and volunteers of the night, the Mayor finally counted down the lighting and pressed the festival’s iconic button, firing up the festive lights that dotted the 35-foot Christmas tree. Following the audience’s amazement, fireworks pleasantly surprised the crowd, as they colorfully burst over the castle-esque figure of the Old State Capitol Building, creating an almost fairytale like visage for festival goers.
“I thought that the tree, the lights around the Festival area, the North Boulevard lights and the fireworks were all magical,” said Chatelain. “In a time when so much violence and tragedy are commonplace in our country and internationally, I felt so much joy and pride in seeing the people of Baton Rouge come together with such warmth and peace. I appreciate it, even more, this year, and I am so proud to live in a place that can come together and celebrate this way.”