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Jo-El Sonnier, Jason Crabb, Newworldson headline 29th Annual Franklin Parish Catfish Festival on Saturday, April 11 in Winnsboro

Louisiana native Jo-El Sonnier has been to the Franklin Parish Catfish Festival before, but this time he’s bring new some hardware with him.

The Rayne native won a Grammy Award in early-February for the Best Regional Roots album category, and will be the featured artist at the 29th annual festival held in historic downtown Winnsboro on Saturday, April 11.

Sonnier is but one of three award-winning performers at this year’s festival according to Nathan Roberts, who serves as the festival entertainment coordinator.

“This year’s entertainment lineup will be better than ever,” Roberts said. “Jo-El, Jason Crabb and Newworldson are really great performers on the stage, and off stage they really love to interact with the people.”

Sonnier’s win came after four previous nominations, and came about through the release of “The Legacy”, his 2013 album that is a collection of originals in traditional Cajun style, and featured familiar Louisiana names like Beausoleil’s Michael Doucet and guitarist Shane Theriot.

“Jo-El and Bobbie Sonnier spent their afternoon perusing the vendor booths this last time they were here,” he added. “Many of these acts don’t just come to perform, they come to enjoy the festival as well.”

The April 11th event will run from 8-5 and will feature three music stages. The $5 gate admission will allow festival goers the opportunity to see and hear performers from one of the best lineups in years.

Sonnier is not the only Grammy winning artist at this year’s festival. Christian musician Jason Crabb, who won a Grammy in 2010 in the Best Southern / Country / Bluegrass category for his album by the same name, will make a second consecutive appearance at this year’s event.

Crabb’s latest project, Love is Stronger, was released in early 2013, and his appearance is sure to draw fans from throughout the region.

“Jason’s Grammy came in the same category as prior winners Amy Grant and Randy Travis,” Roberts said. “That’s pretty good company and we’re glad to be able to get him back.”

Roberts also noted that when Crabb was here last year, he was seen helping out in one of the church fish frying booths when not performing.

Also returning to this year’s festival is Newworldson, a Canadian Christian pop and soul band with a high energy and unique eclectic style. This versatile group is well known by its devoted fans and is a terrific contemporary Christian band with a timeless message.

Both young and mature audiences will enjoy the sound that incorporates rock, pop, and a horn section, with a bit of a reggae and calypso style.

“Their sound is a bit different from the Christian groups you hear these days.” Roberts said. “And like so many others, Newworldson didn't just play and leave last year, they were actually in the audience and enjoying many of the other performers.”

Trae Wheeler will bring his love of percussion and piano to this year’s festival. Wheeler learned to play the drums and piano through his musician parents, and his early voyage into the music ministry began with church choir.

Though he was a reluctant musician in the gospel music world during his early years, Wheeler found his way, and the Trae Wheeler Showcase will bring a Christian sound and message unlike any other to this year’s festival.

Making her first appearance in Winnsboro is the young musical phenom Emi Sunshine, an elementary-aged singer who’s made a name singing at festivals and fairs. She has also gained the notice of some significant musical stars with a poise and charm that belies her years.

Emi recently appeared on “The Today Show” and was seen on that show by Start native Tim McGraw, who contacted her parents. Before long, they signed a deal with the same group that represents McGraw and, since then, the 11-year old has performed with Buddy Miller and Ricky Skaggs, among others, as her star continues to rise.

Also appearing at this year’s festival is Virginia-born, New York-bred songster Phillip Roebuck and his one-man band. With punk rock intensity, Roebuck stomps out beats on a classic, depression-era drum apparatus, while strumming the banjo in his ragged-but-right style.

Festival goers may see Roebuck on stage, or they may see him on a street corner entertaining those passing by. Regardless of where they see him, they’ll know he was there.

Also making a return visit will be the Drunken Catfish Ramblers from New Orleans. This group, at their core, is a street band that plays music from the delta blues to Appalachian stomps to early jazz. This group comes complete with a washboard, jug, tuba and a banjo, and will grab your attention wherever they are.

Look and listen for them on Prairie Street throughout the day, and remember that they’re not far removed from the New Orleans Jazzfest and the streets of the French Quarter.

Fans of the Franklin Parish Catfish Festival certainly need no introduction to Lainey Wilson, who was born and raised in Baskin. Lainey has appeared at the festival many times, and draws bigger crowds with each passing year.

Lainey can both sing and play the guitar, and has co-written several songs with Nashville writers, and has even opened for Andy Griggs on his concert tour.

Mario Abney will return to this year’s festival, and will bring his traditional trumpet sound to create a pure musical dialog in his spiritual way. Abney is definitely one of New Orleans most pioneering young jazz musicians

“Mario Abney will bring New Orleans Jazz and Blues to the Old Glory stage,” Roberts said. “His appearance at the festival is one not to miss.”

Also, The Rusty Yates Band from the Baton Rouge and New Orleans area will be one the more musically diverse groups at this year’s festival. This very popular party band has a musical repertoire that encompasses hits from the 1960s until today, and festival attendees will enjoy Yates’ sound.

Also scheduled for this year’s festival is Ricky Hendricks, who was recently a Top 48 American Idol contestant before being voted off in mid-February. The 18-year old West Ouachita High School student developed a passion for music early in life and continues to pursue his dream of becoming the next big country music star.

Also scheduled to perform is 13-year old Baylee Sullivan of Gonzales, the AFC Focus Youth, the Excelsior Jazz Combo, and Southern Revelation.

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'Catfish Cookoff' Set for March 17

The ever-popular “Catfish Cookoff” will again be a part of the annual “Taste of Franklin” scheduled for Tuesday, March 17.

This year’s event will be held at 6 p.m. at the River of Life Church in Winnsboro, and is sponsored by the Winnsboro-Franklin Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin Parish Catfish Festival, along with the Franklin Parish Tourism Commission.

According to Festival Director Paul Price Jr., entrants in the “Cookoff” are now being accepted.

“We’ve had a lot of fun with this event in the past, and it serves as a great kickoff event for the festival scheduled for April 11,” Price said. “We have some great cooks in our part of the world, and many of the past recipes using our famous pond-raised catfish have been outstanding.”

Entry in either category is open to anyone living in or working in Franklin Parish, and will be limited to the first 12 entrants.

The Catfish Festival will provide five pounds of Louisiana pond-raised catfish for each entrant. All recipes must be prepared off-site and brought ready to serve.

Those purchasing a ticket for the Taste of Franklin will be among those able to sample each of the entered recipes.

Contest judges will sample all entries and award first, second, and third place plaques. In addition, the first place winner in each category will receive $200, second place $100, and third place $50.

“The Taste of Franklin is an ‘all you can taste’ event with a limited number of tickets available, and we’re happy to be a partner with the Chamber in this event,” Price said. “These combined events are a great showcase for our local businesses and for the Catfish Festival.”

Contestants in the “Catfish Cookoff” should contact Price at 435-4105. Entry deadline is Friday, March 13.

Contest guidelines and entry forms may also be downloaded here.

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Vendor Deadline Approaching For Franklin Parish Catfish Festival in Winnsboro

The family-friendly Franklin Parish Catfish Festival will hold its 29th annual celebration in Winnsboro on Saturday, April 11, and arts and crafts vendors are urged to participate in what has become one of the largest one day festivals in the state.

Approximately 275 vendor spaces, both arts and crafts and commercial, are available this year, with an application deadline of February 28. All vendor booths are on the street and line a three block area in Winnsboro’s downtown historic district.

The daylong event features three stages of musical entertainment and plenty of fresh pond-raised fried catfish for the anticipated crowd of 15-20,000 that annually attends the event.Admission is only $5 per person for a day of great entertainment in a family-friendly setting.

Grammy nominee and Louisiana native Jo-el Sonnier headlines this year’s entertainment lineup, which includes Christian artists Newworldson and Jason Crabb, party band Rusty Yates, blues artist Phillip Roebuck, and a number of local and regional acts covering all musical genres.

Other festival highlights include a free video game arcade, an antique car show, quilt show, flower show, inflatable play area, a museum exhibition highlighting the recent Poverty Point worldwide designation, and “Party Like a Princess” interactive live performances throughout the day.

The festival is sponsored annually by the Franklin Parish Tourism Commission, with hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Vendor applications can be downloaded here on the website, or one can be obtained by calling (318) 435-7607. Other questions can be directed to festival officials through the festival website here.

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Festival Hours: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm