Almost three centuries ago, a pirate named "Jean Lafitte" and his band of buccaneers were fleeing enemy ships and heading west to Galveston. Legend has it that Lafitte & his band of buccaneers would hide out along the waterways in Lake Charles. Legend also has it that Jean Lafitte's favorite hideout was Contraband Bayou in Lake Charles where his treasure (silver & gold) was hidden and buried by Lafitte in his favorite hideaway Contraband Bayou and hence given why the bayou is named Contraband Bayou.
In 1957, a group of local businessmen from the Downtown Division of the Lake Charles Association of Commerce (later known as the Chamber of Commerce) formed Lake Charles Contraband Days, Inc. (today - known as the Louisiana Pirate Festival, Inc.) for the sole purpose of developing a program to utilize the Lake Charles areas in recreational and cultural activities and to attract tourists. The group opted for a pirate theme with the legend of Lafitte's Buried Treasure along Contraband Bayou thus the first Annual Contraband Days festival was held in June 1958 as a one day event with a boat parade, water ski show and boat races. A few years later, this group of men formed another organization called the Buccaneers of Lake Charles, Inc., and added entertainment by dressing in pirate attire and costume. A "Jean Lafitte" would be selected to lead the buccaneers to "Capture the Mayor and take over the City." Part of the buccaneer group would also dress in "City Militia" attire, armed with real cannons to try to ward off Lafitte & his buccaneers from landing as part of the entertainment.
The Buccaneers of Lake Charles is the primary part of the festivals "pirate themed" entertainment, begins and ends the festivities, and promotes the festival year round.
Louisiana Pirate Festival, Inc. is the organization that plans, organizes, and budgets for the festival events. 66 years later, the Louisiana Pirate Festival has grown from one day of festivities to a twelve day festival with a variety of entertainment.
Louisiana Pirate Festival grew over the years as a scheduler of many types of events, contests, and attractions. Charitable organizations were and still are encouraged to host an event during Louisiana Pirate Festival. Charitable organizations, schools, and churches host events, contests, booths, etc., during Louisiana Pirate Festival, and some have been involved for many years.
Louisiana Pirate Festival is not only a festival to promote tourism and provide entertainment, it is a large promoter of small and local businesses, which aids in maintaining the economic footprint here in SWLA. For many charitable organizations, this is a major fundraiser for the year which makes the Louisiana Pirate Festival a valuable and beneficial partner to these organizations! There are at least 20 local charitable organizations that benefit by having an event during Louisiana Pirate Festival each year.
In 2013, an economic impact study was conducted by McNeese State University. Through surveys, on-the-ground interviews as well as data collected throughout the festival, the estimated economic impact is $6 million. The festival is one of the largest and longest festivals in Southwest Louisiana, and it has become a tradition for many residents and visitors over the span of the festival's history.
Louisiana Pirate Festival receives many awards and recognition each year from a national level to local.
Louisiana Pirate Festival was selected and featured on the All-American Festivals segment of the Television Food Network and was featured in Hot Boat Magazine. Louisiana Pirate Festival won again the ABA Top 100 Events in North America and this the 3rd time in the seven years Louisiana Pirate Festival has received this award. Louisiana Pirate Festival has also been featured in many top festival websites, magazines, and publications nationally each year.
Louisiana Pirate Festival receives regional recognition as it has been selected "Festival of the Year" by La Association of Fairs & Festivals the past three years and receives numerous marketing awards by the Association as well. Also has been featured in Louisiana Life, Southern Living, Acadiana Profile, and many regional tourism guides and magazines as a must see festival destination
Local recognition Tourism Partner of the Year SWLA Convention & Visitors Bureau: May 2004 and has received many local awards as "Voted Best Festival" by Times of SWLA in June 2004.
In February of 2015, the festival was named to the USA Today's Top 7 Pirate Festivals in the US.
In 2018, the festival was named as a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society!