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Students get front row seat to inner workings of Festival International

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Nick Tanner, a senior music business major at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, has two big reasons to be excited about the upcoming Festival International de Louisiane.

He’s among three UL Lafayette students who are completing internships this semester for the largest international music and arts festival in the U.S. And, he’ll have the chance to perform during the cultural celebration as a member of a soul and funk band.

The festival is expected to draw 300,000 people to downtown Lafayette April 24-28. Entertainers representing 24 countries will perform and over two dozen area restaurants will be offering some of their best dishes.

Tanner and fellow interns Haley Gonzales and Olatunde Soyombo have been working diligently behind the scenes.

In preparation for the 33rd annual event, Tanner has negotiated contracts with musicians. He’s tracked down stage layout plans from tour managers. He’s booked hotel rooms for artists. And he’s practiced to take the stage on closing day.

Tanner is the guitarist for Dphrnt Strks, as in “Different Strokes spelled with a ph and no vowels,” he explained.

Tanner, who is from Kenner, La., said experience he’s gleaned as a festival intern is invaluable given his aspirations. After he graduates in May, he wants to become a performer and a tour manager for other bands.

“In the music industry you often need to be able to do a little bit of everything and find second sources of income,” Tanner said.

He envisions working as tour manager for several years while he tries to get his musical career off the ground. “Maybe it turns out that I become a tour manager, then book gigs for myself when I’m not on tour with another act. I’m never going to give up music.”

Gonzales, a senior mass communications major from New Orleans, is also using her internship to prepare for a career.

One of her responsibilities has been reaching out to potential donors and sponsors, which provides “person-to-person interaction that improves your ability to communicate,” she said.

Candace Gulotta-Haggart, development director, said Gonzales is “smart, ready to handle challenges, personable and customer service-oriented.”

“And, she’s organized and helps keep me organized. I think of her as more of an assistant than an intern,” Gulotta-Haggart said.

Gonzales, a graphic designer, has created promotional materials such as flyers and logos to promote the festival. “I’m considering several career options, including broadcasting, making films for companies, and social media or graphic design, so it’s been beneficial,” she said.

Like Tanner and Gonzales, Soyombo, a senior journalism major from Lafayette, has spent his time with the festival polishing his skills and networking.

His writing ability has come in handy. He’s crafted press releases and promotional materials to bang the drum for the festival.

Soyombo has written articles for local print publications such as FACE Magazine and Acadiana Profile. He has also appeared on morning TV shows.

A saxophonist, Soyombo said his internship has also given him a “window into the music industry.”

“It’s been cool. Even though I’ve been a musician my entire adult life, I still hadn’t seen it from this side of things.”

Soyombo, Tanner and Gonzales have given as much help as they’ve gotten.

Lisa Stafford, festival programming director, mentored Tanner. But in one aspect of his job, he mentored her. Stafford leaned heavily on Tanner for technical assistance for a hard-to-navigate software program.

“The database keeps track of virtually every aspect of festival logistics, from the schedule to stage plots to contracting – everything you can imagine. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do and he just took to it really well,” Stafford explained.

Carly Viator, marketing director, said Soyombo’s ability to write provided a channel for promoting the festival in a new way.

“We wanted to try something different. We’ve never had a print journalism student before, so this year we’re trying to educate people more about what goes into festival.”

Learn more about Festival International.

Photo: UL Lafayette students Nick Tanner, Olatunde Soyombo and Haley Gonzales are completing internships this semester for Festival International, the largest international music and arts festival in the U.S.

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