The first Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival was a hit last year, and it makes its return this weekend. But the festival’s success shouldn’t be that surprising because, as festival director and local musician Henry Turner says, “Everybody loves soul food.”
This year, you can find the fest at North Boulevard Town Square. The event’s second edition promises more of the same bold, homegrown flavors, but with even more vendors—some from other states like Texas, Georgia and Mississippi. “It’s quickly becoming a regional festival,” Turner says, and that’s evident in the mix of local and regional talent taking the Galvez Plaza Stage this weekend. The live music lineup features rhythm and blues groups from Texas, Florida and Tennessee, plus some local favorites like headliners Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor and Kenny Neal.
But, besides the endless amounts of soul food and music, the fest’s main events are the two judged soul food cooking competitions. Chefs from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida are coming to the Red Stick to serve up their signature soul food dishes. Contestants are judged by a selected panel of experts, who score their creations based on presentation, taste and the story behind each dish. Check out more information on the competition here.
Turner says he’s hoping to “resurge” the once-popular soul food scene by bringing all these chefs and vendors from around the South to Baton Rouge. “We had a great thriving soul food industry here in the ’60s and ’70s all the way up to the early ’90s. Then we lost that momentum when a bunch of our soul food restaurants closed and a bunch of our great soul food cooks passed on,” Turner says.
“My theory was: You build it; they will come,” he adds.
And he was right. If you made it out to Riverfront Park last spring, you might have noticed the crowds. The fest’s premiere brought about 6,000 guests to the riverfront, even though festival organizers only expected about 800.
“So if we do a resurgence on the soul food culture, all of those new soul food cooks should come forward. And maybe we can get a part of that culture back and service the city again,” Turner says.
And this year, the festival is adding a pre-party at Hollywood Casino. That event is tonight, May 23, featuring an “all-star jam” session with Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor, the Listening Room All-Stars, Clarence “Pie Man” Williams, Smokehouse Porter with Miss Mamie, the Rouge Band and more. The pre-party starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here. Hollywood Casino is at 1717 River Road N.
Baton Rouge Soul Food Fest is a free and family-friendly event on Saturday, May 25, and Sunday, May 26, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. North Boulevard Town Square is at 222 North Blvd. downtown.