Goin’ Gallic: French Festival returns to Oak Park with more vendors, entertainment

Beth Harding fills in for Mona Lisa while Mark Woempner takes her photo at the 2012 French Festival.
Beth Harding fills in for Mona Lisa while Mark Woempner takes her photo at the 2012 French Festival.

Ooh-la-la! The French Festival returns to Oak Park next Saturday and Sunday for its 26th year of celebrating Bastille Day and French culture and influence all over the world, from Vietnam to New Orleans.

Visitors will be able to check out the can-can, listen to chanson, eat baguettes and wear berets freely. Basically, if it’s French in any way, you’ll find it at the park.

Jake Shannon, 2 1/2 , sports a pretty nifty mustache at the 2012 festival.
Jake Shannon, 2 1/2 , sports a pretty nifty mustache at the 2012 festival.

After Steve Hoegerman handed them the reins of the festival, Teri Ball and Nathan Quinney of Center Stage Theatre have not only kept the festival going, but have expanded it to handle even more food booths and arts-and-crafts stalls. Mr. Hoegerman is left to relax and emcee the stage events and hold down his booth that offers trips to Provence.

“What we’ve learned over the course of doing this is ‘Take a deep breath, it will be OK,’ ” said Ms. Ball, sitting at her office desk at Center Stage Theater, surrounded by maps of the park, overstuffed folders filled with photos and vendor information, and the other logistical charts that go into operating a theater all year.

This year, to make the festival more of an educational experience, more signs will be installed around the park showing the places on the globe where French culture has proliferated. Another posting will show some French phrases that have entered our language and the literal translations of them.

“There is some sense why we have Vietnamese food and West African belly dancers,” Ms. Ball said. “And that’s what you’ll learn.”

Apart from the baguettes and cheese and wine, new food stalls include Mademoiselle Madelines, offering cookies, and Josette’s Bistro, an extension of familiar stall Normandy Bakery and a promotional tool for their new L.A.-based culinary school.

Festival-goers enjoy the shade and music in the 2012 French Festival.
Festival-goers enjoy the shade and music in the 2012 French Festival.

French Bulldog Rescue joined the Poodle Parade, one of the festival’s most well-loved events. This year, instead of the parade across the stage as in years past, the dressed-up doggies will tour the entire park.

“We’ve decided to live up to the name,” Ms. Ball said. “Even if you’re standing in line for crepes, you get to see them walk by.”

One of the new non-food vendors this year is XL Airways France, which is part of this year’s raffle. In addition to the main prize of three nights in French Polynesia, XL is sponsoring the second prize, a round-trip ticket from San Francisco to Paris.

New entertainment includes Cherchez la Femme, an all-female gypsy jazz band; La Boheme Dance Group performing the can-can and more; and another first, J.R. Black, the French rocker who performs Johnny Cash songs like “Folsom Prison Blues,” all in French.

“He e-mailed us three years ago and couldn’t make it, but this year he can,” Ms. Ball said, “So he’s excited to finally be here.”

French Festival hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and July 13 at Oak Park. Admission is free.

For more information and a full schedule, go to www.frenchfestival.com or call 963-8198.

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