Party like a pirate
Susan ‘Louisiana Sue’ Ramon
Susan Ramon—known to many as “Louisiana Sue”—threw her first big event in 1966 as a teenager in high school. “I pirated the senior prom from the school and moved it to [a bar] on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans,” she said. She moved to California in the 1980s where she helped start the Crawdad Festival in Isleton. Now 64, Ramon still throws a wild party and directs events at the Rio Ramaza Marina, RV & Event Park in Sacramento, including the Sacramento Hempfest, Seafarer’s Marketplace & Pirate Festival, and the new Coors Light Crawfish & Catfish Festival. Such shindigs are a tribute to Ramon’s outside-the-box spirit. Ramon took a break from event planning and babysitting grandkids to chat with SN&R about pirates, crawfish and Burning Man.
Was senior prom your first event?
Yeah. … [The school] had this old-folks artsy band that they wanted us to have. [Instead,] we [rented] this warehouse with a patio on the river in New Orleans. I wasn’t 18, and the guy [there] signed a contract. I gave him money. … It was wild. I just put it together like you would have a big wedding or whatever. … It was bring-your-own-booze. All the football team, cheerleaders and everybody went to the [bar].
First Sacramento event?
I gravitated to the [Sacramento Jazz Jubilee] and thought it was going to be real. And I soon saw that it wasn’t real, neither the music nor the food. And so I volunteered, because my thing is I don’t complain about stuff. [I] become part of the solution, not part of the problem. I volunteered and cooked food, and it was fabulous. We brought Cajun food in there, and later, I brought in zydeco music.
What happened to the Crawdad Festival?
It started going downhill. … They sold the name of it, and it went to Red Bluff [in Northern California]. … This last year, Isleton tried to revive it, but they couldn’t use the word [“crawdad”] because they sold the name. And so they called it the [Isleton] Cajun Festival. It was very poorly attended, and the crawfish came from China and they were frozen. It irritated me. I started doing some research. … I get online and Google “California crawfish,” and I get the California Crawfish Company in Chico; they get [the crawfish] from rice fields. … Jody Gallaway started her processing plant in 2010. I contacted her in 2012 and said, “I want to start [the Catfish & Crawfish Festival] and I need about 1,000 pounds.” It was fabulous. … I had a guy come from Louisiana to cook crawfish, and we cooked 3,000 pounds this first year.
The official name of the park is the Rio Ramaza Marina, RV & Event Park. Is it really all those things?
Yes. The RV park is small, [and] the marina is really small. It’s not like it has restaurants and stuff. One of the things I’d like to do is keep the quaintness and the noncommercial part of it. … We don’t want it becoming restaurant row [with] a Starbucks there.
When did you get into doing Rio Ramaza’s events?
A friend of mine from New Orleans lives on the river, and he said, “You got to see this place.” And he brought me to Rio Ramaza, and all it was missing was Spanish moss and I would have been back home. It’s beautiful, and so I talked to the owner and … I started doing zydeco, bringing bands in … four years ago. … I’d cook gumbo, and bands would stop in. The [owner] put up a pontoon and put marine decking on for the dance floor.
So now you do four or five annual festivals?
Yes. The first one I started was … the [Seafarer’s Marketplace &] Pirate Festival, because I’m a pirate at heart. There are people who dress up like pirates, but I’m a pirate. And I know a lot about pirates because I’m from New Orleans. … We had a pirate day on the river and 1,000 people showed up, and we ran out of food and beer. … All I did was add pirates to my zydeco Sunday, and it exploded. I did a two-day pirate event the next year, which brought me a lot of attention.
Which festival gets the wildest?
It’s Burning Man Decompression [in October]. It is outstanding. It is just really visual. … [The attendees are] so creative and … they build something out of nothing. They call it Burn the River, and it’s usually the last the event of the season.
These events are all pretty outside the box. Why do you gravitate toward them?
They gravitate toward me because I’m in the same box with them. … All these festivals that you go to, the band names change, but it’s the same music. The food has different spice, but it’s all the same food. The Crawfish & Catfish Festival will be the best food festival in California when I’m done. We haven’t even touched the surface.