BR Blues Festival proves big downtown draw

From Repentance Park, Galvez Plaza and all parts in between, people were grooving to the sounds of blues, rock and gospel at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival downtown on Saturday.

The music pouring out on the sunny spring day got people like Nancy Broussard in motion. She shook her hips and swayed her arms while listening to Brother Dege and the Brethren rock the Foundation Stage in Repentance Park.

She’s quite familiar with the band’s music and has seen them many times before. She finds their music infectious, making it hard not to dance.

As Dege Legg, lead singer of the band, describes it, the sound is rock ’n’ roll with a psychedelic mix of Delta blues.

“It’s pretty rad,” Legg said of taking part in such a culturally rich event, playing on the same stage as blues legends.

Legg was part of an extensive lineup of talented artists, including the “Night Tripper” himself, Dr. John, as well as Kenny Neal, Black Joe Lewis and others. The musicians ranged in style and tone, but all were playing with the festival’s central goal in mind.

“Our goal is to cultivate and celebrate the swamp blues that is the staple to this area,” said Chris Brooks, festival chairman of the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. “We feel swamp blues is something Baton Rouge and the citizens here should adopt and be proud of, take on, promote and celebrate. With the festival and artists we are getting … people from all over the country and world are looking to Baton Rouge.”

Glen “Uncle G” Westerfield of Zachary was among those who headed downtown, looking forward to hearing one of his favorite musicians, the headliner, Dr. John, who was set to close out the festival Saturday night. “I never miss a show by Dr. John,” he said.

With his black sunglasses, button down shirt and wide-brim hat adorned with trumpets, Westerfield exuded the festival’s bluesy feel as he listened to Paul ‘Lil Buck’ Sinegal perform from the Swamp Blues Stage.

“There is so much good talent that came from this area; it’s good they come back and play here,” Westerfield said.

Baton Rouge has a rich history and connection to blues.

Janice Adolph and Dwayne Stepter, both from Baton Rouge, attended the festival mostly for the gospel music, but recalled making their way to the popular blues joints that once lined North Boulevard in the ’50s and ’60s.

“I went up and down North Boulevard,” Adolph laughed as she remembered spending weekend nights with friends at the now demolished clubs that have been lost to time.

Brooks estimated this year’s festival would draw more than 10,000 people, which has grown substantially since last year.

The big crowd had plenty of room to sprawl, thanks to the addition of new stages, including the Gospel and Soul stage on Lafayette Street.

It all wouldn’t be possible, though, without the new green spaces in the downtown area, said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District.

“We didn’t have these spaces before, and historically, when we would have an event or something, it would be in a street or parking lot,” Rhorer said. “The blues festival, rising in attendance and debuting the third stage, I think that is what we want to see happen.”