When Kacey Jones takes the stage at Vermilionville, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7:30 p.m., as the opener for Kinky Friedman's Southern Discomfort Tour, expect to see about a half-dozen women gleefully on hand whom you won’t be able to miss.
They’ll be all dolled up in an entertaining way because they are the Berry Queens, a New Iberia-based offshoot and milder version of the Sweet Potato Queens, a women’s organization based out of Jackson, Miss., with some 6,000 chapters in the world.
Each local SPQ chapter assumes its own theme and designs its own costumes, participating in parades and fund-raisers in its respective communities. They are all byproducts of Mississippi author Jill Conner Browne’s Sweet Potato Queen book series that basically promotes self-esteem and positive thinking for women.
And they are all big fans of Jones, The Official Songstress of the Sweet Potato Queens, who penned the SPQ's theme song, "Never Wear Panties to a Party."
“She is a wonderful artist – a wonderful lady,” says Boss Queen Jerre Lynne Borland of New Iberia. “She is laugh-out-loud funny. We like to go and laugh. We dress up and we like to support her.”
Borland and other Berry Queens met Jones at the Sweet Potato Queen Festival a while back and became instant fans.
“We started traveling to see her because we liked her so much,” says Borland. “Every year, we’d go back to Jackson to see her. She came here to perform for our second ball. She was our entertainment for that weekend.”
As it happened, Jones was way too kind, and that kindness took the Berry Queens pleasantly by surprise.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of money; she was so sweet and she came and performed for a little bit of nothing,” Borland says. “So she came to do it to help us get off our feet in our second year, and it kind of catapulted us.
“She kind of got us started,” continues Borland. “And now we have people who are offering to come and perform for us because it kind of made [the ball] a little bit bigger and a little bit nicer and gave it a little bit of substance.
“So she was really helpful at the beginning of our event,” she says. “She’s really a lot of fun. And I’m thrilled she’s coming here. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Berry Queens mainly support New Iberia’s Habitat for Humanity, according to Borland. The group has an annual fundraiser following the Sugar Cane Festival, and the money goes to the local Habitat.
“We have doctors, lawyers, teachers, housewives,” Borland says of the Berry Queens. "And all these women work together to give a hand up to people in our area who need good housing and affordable housing who don’t qualify for traditional lending."
The Berry Queens also plan to attend their fifth St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Jackson in March. “This year we all will march in Jackson, and we will all dress up as strawberries in our Berry Queen attire,” says Borland, noting that 36 queens will be on hand. “We do that to represent Habitat there. We talk about what we’re about,” says Borland. “We do that, we do the Sugar Cane Festival each year, and we’re in the Christmas parade here every year.”
Additionally, the Berry Queens helped with the Shadows on the Teche fundraiser last year. “We work with the community and do all sorts of things,” Borland says.
The Berry Queens reportedly have the largest chapter in the SPQ fold with 108 active members.
“And we have about 10-15 queens that are waiting to join,” Borland says, adding that she wants to keep the Berry Queens at a manageable size. “I [wanted] to make sure our membership never got so big that I didn't know each member and they didn’t know me because I think it should be very personal. What we’re doing makes a big difference in our town. I’m amazed. I never in a million years would have thought it would get so big,” she adds. “But it’s been fun and everybody enjoys it, and it raises money for a very good cause.”
The Southern Discomfort tour, the Lafayette show sponsored by The Independent, begins at 8 p.m. Feb. 15. Tickets are $35 for reserve seating; $60 tickets include a meet-and-greet with the performer. INFO: 233-7000.