The threat of lightning, rain and all that goes along with storms in south Louisiana wasn’t going to stop the Baton Rouge Blues Festival from putting on a show.
But after announcing Thursday the event would unfold inside the Baton Rouge River Center because of forecasts of rain, festival organizers, along with musicians, vendors and spectators, were surprised again when Saturday’s weather mostly stayed dry.
Though they missed the sunshine and fresh air of previous years, festival patrons for the most part weren’t singing the blues over it. They enjoyed food, drink and craft offerings from about 40 different vendors, and the River Center’s expanded space meant a little extra breathing room outside of the music rooms.
“It’s been great for conversations,” said Niklas Isaac, owner and roaster of Pure Delight Coffee, a Baton Rouge-based coffee subscription service. “We’ve met a lot of really great people. And having a stable indoor temperature makes brewing about a million times easier.”
Not only that, Isaac said, it would have been harder to sell his piping-hot coffee outside of the River Center’s air-conditioned shelter.
Other vendors may have preferred to hold the festival outside, but they were impressed with how well the River Center was able to host on such short notice.
Debbie Nelson, owner of Cool Tiger Ice SnoBalls, saw a slight drop in sales with the move indoors. She said on a normal year, her stand has people lining up across the street.
“We’re a hot-weather product, so for my product, it’s better to be outside, but obviously, you have to put the safety of the patrons and everyone first,” Nelson said.
At the River Center’s front entrance facing St. Louis Street, the smells of a smattering of food vendors and echoes from bands playing throughout the building collected to welcome entrants out of the muggy heat. Downstairs, the River Center’s exhibition hall housed two performance stages, with crowds of spectators standing or relaxing in camp chairs enjoying the music.
Richard Oswald, 58, of Baton Rouge, who was waiting for the Heritage Blues Orchestra to come onstage in the exhibition hall, said he attended the Blues Festival every year since the second event in 1982, when it was held at Scott’s Bluff on Southern University’s campus.
While the venue has changed at times and the event went on hiatus from 1994 to 2008, Saturday marked the first time for the popular festival to be held indoors.
Despite problems like shorter sets and difficult acoustics caused by the shared indoor space of the River Center, Oswald said he was impressed with how seamless the transition seemed.
“Sure, I’d rather be outside,” Oswald said. “But I think they’ve pulled it off well.”
Outside the exhibition hall, every available space in the foyer was filled with vendors, chefs and musicians. Behind a booth where one artist painted a woman’s body before an audience, two members of Baton Rouge band Honeyvibe performed with acoustic guitars and percussion.
“We have a full band set later upstairs, but for now, we’re just gonna jam with y’all,” Honeyvibe frontman David Jones II told the audience.
Performing at the Blues Festival was a lucky break for Honeyvibe, who previously played in Baton Rouge as The Collective Band, Jones said.
Jones was playing guitar on the sidewalk on Third Street two weeks ago when one of the festival’s organizers discovered him.
“He walked by, then came right back and said to me, ‘You have got to play at Blues Fest. Everything’s full now, but we’ll find a place for you,’ ” Jones said.
Jones said he was excited his band had its first opportunity to play at the festival.
Festival veterans who were initially skeptical of the move indoors were appreciative of the effort that went into making sure the show went on, despite the weather concerns.
Madeline Ellis, who runs the Mimosa by ME jewelry shop, said she had originally had concerns about moving indoors.
“Yeah, there were a few kinks,” Ellis said. “But overall, they did an awesome job with the logistics of getting everything moved in a few days.”