“I believe this will be a banner year,” says musician and recording artist Henry Turner Jr., founder of the Baton Rouge Soul Food Fest. It holds its fifth annual celebration this month downtown on River Road. “We’re gonna fire with both barrels.”
Held May 14–15 along the Riverfront Plaza, the event features a weekend of live soul, blues, gospel, R&B and spoken-word performances from the likes of Lisa Harris (performing a Tina Turner tribute), blues and rock performer Owen Scott, soul musician Kasey Ball, Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor and others. Popular bluesman and Grammy nominee Kenny Neal is Sunday’s headliner.
A variety of authentic soul food dishes—chitterlings, stewed and braised meats, greens, yams and fruit cobblers prepared by local restaurants, home cooks and caterers—will be available for sampling.
A ticketed pre-party takes place on Thursday, May 12, at the Henry Turner Jr. Listening Room on North Street with a menu that features wings and greens.
Turner founded the festival to bring awareness to the cultural importance of soul food and its continued presence in America’s culinary tableau.
“Soul food and the culture around it have spread,” he says. “You can’t go to a gas station without seeing soul food on the menu, and even in high-end restaurants, there are usually dishes that have their roots in soul food. We think it’s important to educate the community about that.”
Unlike festivals that broker with well-known restaurants and event caterers, the Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival holds a five-category cooking contest to ferret out grassroots soul food practitioners. Cooks compete for top honors in meats, vegetables and sides, bread and desserts, appetizers and soups, beverages and ices. They’re judged not just on taste and presentation, but also on the history or story behind each entry.
The festival also honors an annual Soul Food Pioneer. This year’s recipient is Deborah Dickerson, owner of D’s Southern Soul Café in Plaquemine, a popular spot known for chitterlings, smothered liver and peppergrass, a wild edible green. Last year, Dickerson brought 150 pounds of chitterlings to the festival, Turner says.
“She overwhelmed us with her abilities,” he says. “Her food is off the chain.”
The festival is free and family friendly. To purchase tickets to the pre-party and for more info, visit brsoulfoodfest.com.
Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival
Saturday, May 14, and Sunday, May 15, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Free; Riverfront Plaza
Pre-party: Thursday, May 12
$25; Henry Turner Jr. Listening Room
This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue of 225 magazine.