Baton Rouge festivals are coming back, carefully, this fall

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, but the news isn’t all bad, 225 magazine reports. Arts organizations continue to find ways to pivot, with some holding modified versions of events this spring, and others rescheduling them for this fall.

Organizers of the Baton Rouge Blues Festival, the Arts Council’s Ebb & Flow Festival, Baton Rouge Oyster Festival, Bandito Festival and Live After 5 are all planning to shift spring and summer events to later in the year. Regionally, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and French Quarter Festival have acted similarly, pushing their usual spring dates to October. Lafayette’s Festival International in April is going virtual again this year.

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.”

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.

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 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.

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.” 

This story first ran in 225 magazine. Subscribe to the free 225 Daily e-newsletter to keep up with Baton Rouge food, events, and entertainment.