In changing Bywater, Mirliton Festival a constant _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- Kermit Ruffins plays with his band The Barbecue Swingers at the second week of the 21st Annual Nickel A Dance concert filled the Maison on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, La. Sunday, March 8, 2015. According to the event's website it is "a free series of Sunday afternoon jazz concerts each spring and fall, that is a hit with children, families, seniors, and the general dancing public that donÕt tend to go to night clubs. It attracts a diverse group of fans that meet on Frenchmen Street to celebrate jazz as AmericaÕs original dance music while listening to the best of todayÕs classic jazz bands." The concerts continue through March 29th.

Like the neighborhood it celebrates, the Mirliton Festival has seen its share of change over the years — especially as Bywater has become one of the hottest areas in New Orleans.

But even as, in more cynical moments, Bywater has become a poster child for post-Katrina gentrification, it remains at its heart a neighborhood, and as it enters its next quarter-century, the Mirliton Festival once again will emphasize the area’s sense of community Saturday .

The festival’s return to Mickey Markey Park in 2014 — after two years away due to park renovations — brought some programming changes. The art vendors were moved to the Old Ironworks area nearby, and instead of buying meals at the fest, hungry visitors were directed to local restaurants serving mirliton-inspired dishes on their menu.

This year, while the 50-plus art vendors will remain at the Old Ironworks, 612 Piety St., the food vendors will return to the festival grounds.

It’s all in the spirit of showcasing a growing but still close-knit community, said Bywater Neighborhood Association board Chairman John Guarnieri. The BNA is presenting the festival.

While Guarnieri acknowledges the influx of so-called hipsters, often moving to the city for tech or film industry work, he also sees a new generation of families establishing roots.

“Now you have younger couples with kids moving, and where before there were no playgrounds for children, we now have that,” said Guarnieri, a longtime Bywater resident. “The Mirliton Festival gives people an opportunity to meet their other neighbors. I’ve seen people come into Bywater, and sometimes they assume people aren’t friendly, or will walk past you. But the festival gives them a chance to meet one another and also appreciate the work that’s being done in the neighborhood.

“We’re trying to be a more walkable and sustainable neighborhood.”

Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, once a fixture on Thursday nights at nearby Vaughan’s Lounge, will serve as the festival’s headlining act.

Other performers include the Washboard Chaz Blues Trio. The event is free to the public and runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

But this year’s fun won’t just be confined to the daylong festival. The Positive Vibes Foundation, which sponsors the Mirliton Festival, has added the inaugural Mirliton Masquerade Ball at Port, 2120 Port St., on Saturday night after the festival. It’s a costume affair with music by Pirate’s Choice and others.

Proceeds will help fund the Positive Vibrations Foundation’s work, including its Congo Kids program, featuring percussion workshops for children. The foundation is wrapping up a week of free workshops in advance of the festival.

“It’s important for us to provide opportunities and outlets for the youths of this neighborhood,” said organizer Ben Faulks. “There are a lot of other things we do that feed into that program. It’s attractive to be attached to something that is free to the community, and the Bywater Heritage and Rhythms Week is a maturation of that relationship.

“Not only are we able to offer people a great festival on a Saturday, but also to expand to the Mirliton Ball for adults in the evening. It gives people an opportunity to have some fun and experience some great music, but also music with heritage.”