By Quinn Welsch
For a few hours on a Friday night, a group of like-minded individuals got together to listen to music in Louisiana’s capitol city.
But this group was unlike many others. Their pace was faster, and their momentum was driven by a desire to see change in their city.
As a precursor to the annual Baton Rouge Blues Festival, the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation and Lagniappe Records hosted a listening party to sample music for the anticipated annual blues festival. The listening party brought a range of creative types into Lagniappe Records’ incense-scented music shop, located in Beauregard Town. The rock and roll paraphernalia and thousands of stacks of records made the setting pretty apt, to say the least. Since opening, the shop has cultivated local original art in the capitol city in various forms.
“There’s all kinds of things happening musically and artistically here,” said Patrick Hodgkins, co-owner of Lagniappe Records. “We’re just happy to be a hub for creative people to gather and meet each other.”
This was also the premise of the listening party, Hodgkins said. “This is basically just a good hang.”
“Music brings people together regardless of whether it’s a concert, listening party, or if you’re just riding in your car with your friends,” he said.
Creating those kinds of “hangs” and community spaces is one of the record store’s priorities, said Tess Brunet, the store’s other owner and Hodgkins’ wife. For instance, anyone can look up the Red Stick’s rich history of blues musicians, but why not look them up with a group of people with the same interests?
“They can go online and do the research, but it’s just not going to be as fun,” Brunet said.
Hodgkins and Brunet featured a variety of tracks from the blues festival’s current and previous lineups, including rare singles from local legends, such as soul singer George Perkins and R&B group 13th Amendment.
“[The Baton Rouge Blues Foundation] wants to create a cool experience that has a something for everyone,” Brunet said.
This year’s lineup includes an array of rock, hip-hop, soul and R&B artists, which all stem from the same musical tree, the blues.
“If you look at it from 30,000 feet it’s all the blues,” said Chris Brooks, the festival’s chairman.
The festival’s primary aim this year is to foster a local flavor and a sense of pride in Baton Rouge’s music, he said.
“Our goal is to educate the general public that the blues – specifically the swamp blues – is what Baton Rouge is known for,” Brooks said. “We believe this is something the city should hang its hat on.”
Since taking over as chair of the festival in 2013, Brooks said he has noticed a consistent climb in audience attendance, from about 12,000 in 2013 to 20,000 in 2014.
“We’ve grown by about 100 percent every year,” Brooks said. He expects a similar increase in attendance this year as well.
The Baton Rouge Blues Festival is a free event that begins at 11 a.m. and lasts until 9:30 p.m. on April 11 in downtown Baton Rouge. This is the festival’s 21st year. For more info on the lineup, check out batonrougebluesfestival.org or visit DigBatonRouge.com to listen to a Spotify playlist.
*Chris Brooks was the general manager and associate publisher of DIG Magazine from 2006 – 2014.
Baton Rouge Blues Festival’s 2015 lineup on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/brbluesfest/playlist/23YbUfblzxM4janldFH4pI