Louisiana’s warm weather festivals are as elemental as crawfish and azaleas, but they were among the first events to be canceled last spring with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. Things still aren’t back to normal yet this spring, but the news isn’t all bad. Arts organizations continue to find ways to pivot, with some holding modified versions of events this spring, and others rescheduling them for the fall.
It’s usually in April that blues fans get their fill of swamp blues—Baton Rouge’s indigenous blues form. But the Baton Rouge Blues Festival won’t happen this year until Sept. 18, says Kim Neustrom, executive director of the Baton Rouge Blues Festival and Foundation.
“The festival footprint will be the same, but the flow may be a little different,” Neustrom says. “We may not have as many stages, and we may scale back the arts market. But we are planning on resuming the full-blown festival about six months later in April 2022.”
Ebb & Flow, the city’s Mississippi River-themed arts festival, also anticipates a September date, rescheduled from its normal date in April. Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge President and CEO Renee Chatelain says the event could be held in conjunction with a possible conference held by the Mississippi River Cities and Town Initiative, which Mayor Sharon Weston Broome co-chairs. The conference is tentatively planned for Baton Rouge.
“It could be something where we curate local arts performances and presentations around a conference,” Chatelain says. “We really like this idea. It’s how South by Southwest operates, and it’s what we originally envisioned.”
But even if that coordinated effort doesn’t happen this fall, Chatelain says some version of Ebb and Flow will still take place in September.
Spring festival events haven’t been completely shuttered. Beauvoir Park played host to the South By St. Patrick’s Day Fest in March, with eight days of outdoor music for ticketed attendees at the Perkins Road overpass venue. The Third Street Songwriters Festival, held March 20, shifted from its usual location inside downtown bars and restaurants to the outdoor amphitheater at Pointe Marie. And in lieu of Manship Theatre’s annual gala, which normally attracts hundreds of participants to the Shaw Center for the Arts, it is holding smaller ticketed outdoor concerts in April, May and June on the Shaw Center’s fourth floor terrace.
“Until we’re allowed to do music inside again, this is what we’ll do,” says John Kaufman, Manship Theatre director of marketing and programming. “We still have holds on [inside] shows in the fall. It will just depend on the mandates.”
Downtown’s free concert series, Live After 5, normally features six outdoor concerts each in the spring and fall. This year, all 12 concerts will be held in the fall, says organizer Lauren Lambert Tompkins. Produced by the Downtown Business Association, the series will run on consecutive Friday evenings from Aug. 20 to Nov. 5.
“We’ll be taking all the necessary precautions to have a safe event,” Tompkins says. “All of the festival organizers have been working together about what things are going to look like, and we’ll be prepared to adjust if need be.”
Tompkins doesn’t know yet if capacity will be limited.
The Oyster Festival, normally held in late May, will shift from a two- to a one-day event on Aug. 28 with headliner the Gin Blossoms. Bandito Festival, which launched for the first time in 2019 and fuses alt-country and rock music with rock, tacos and barbecue, was scheduled for June 25-26 as of press time. Organizers say it’s possible the event will be rescheduled for Aug. 21. Both events will be ticketed and have limited capacity.
It’s been a long, hard road for festival and performing arts organizers, but Neustrom believes her organization and the artists it represents are poised to bounce back.
“The blues was born out of tense times, pain and sadness,” Neustrom says. “And while this is not ideal, we’re going to lean into what created us as an organization, and have some amazing blues songs to sing when we gather again.”
Mark your calendar
The information in our story is as of press time in mid-March. Find the latest information on upcoming local festivals at their websites: