By Nick BeJeaux
“My heart and the city’s heart is invested in local bands and in places like Highland Coffees.”
The music festival intended to rally the community behind the endangered Highland Coffees turned out to be a celebration of its salvation, following last week’s news that a new lease agreement between the landlords and store owner Clarke Cadzow had been reached.
The Highlander Music Festival was held Nov. 14 and featured local bands like Caroline Shaft, Ship of Fools, Minos the Saint, Levee Daze and Gardens, within and without the liberated coffee shop. The festival was organized by Save Highland Coffees – the group’s name, and the success of its mission, speaks for itself.
“We were getting ready for The Highlander, everything was in motion, and Peter [Jenkins, co-organizer of SHC] messaged me and said, ‘I have really great news. Do you have a minute to sit down?’” said Ashley Monaghan, co-organizer for SHC and Ship of Fools singer. “So we sat down and he just said, ‘They signed the lease.’ We told our team that night when Clarke sent out the press release and went here and celebrated.”
DIG received word from Cadzow on Nov. 11 that he had reached an agreement with Hank Saurage and his partners to extend the lease, ensuring the store will stay open “for years to come.” Cadzow provided a press release expressing the business’ satisfaction with the outcome of the negotiations and its appreciation for the support of the community.
“With any lease transaction, there are differing perspectives and expectations that need to be addressed, and in this case, the outcome of the lease discussions was successful,” it read. “We deeply appreciate the support of our friends and customers during this lease renewal process. We look forward to continuing our involvement with the wonderful people and businesses of the unique and historic North Gate community, a relationship we have cherished for twenty-five years.”
Despite this unexpected, though welcome, twist in the events surrounding the fate of Highland Coffees, a 25-year institution, The Highlander went on as planned; transforming from rally to victory celebration
“It’s essentially a community appreciation event – the message behind it is still there,” said Monaghan. “This coffee shop is very important to people that live in this neighborhood and in this city. We’ve turned it into a celebration instead of a fundraiser or a rally. It’s just a celebration of the community. All of these bands that are playing are doing it for free because they love Highland and Clarke. They come here all the time – my band formed here – because it’s such an integral part of the community.”
The plight that Highland Coffees went through is nothing new to the Highland-Chimes area; it’s a hard place for local independent businesses to set up and remain successful. The festival’s organizer, Lauren Cross, said that besides celebrating Highland Coffees staying open the festival also aims to support other local businesses and artists.
“It was the highest priority that we get only local bands here tonight,” she said. “We want to support small local businesses, local musicians and artists. We wanted to show how much we appreciate Baton Rouge. Sure, I’d pay to see a band from out of town, but my heart and the city’s heart is invested in local bands and in places like Highland Coffees.”
Both Jenkins and Cross have hinted that there are plans to make The Highlander an annual event, though there are no concrete plans just yet.
“We’re not stopping now!” said Jenkins.
That declaration may take on new meaning in the future. While Highland Coffees is safe for now, other local businesses in the area may find themselves in similar circumstances. Jenkins said that if that happens, a similar movement to the one that helped save Highland Coffees could very well come to the rescue now that the community has proof it can make a difference.
“People have been noticing the problems in this area for years, but I think this is the first time that the community support has turned the situation completely around from the property owners saying, ‘We’re going in a different direction’ to signing a new lease,” said Jenkins. “We’re here for local businesses, not just Highland Coffees, and we’re not going to let them down.”