If not for the Mississippi River, New Orleans wouldn’t be here. But in our daily lives it’s easy to forget the huge river rolling nearby.
This weekend, the third annual Downriver Festival serves as a reminder, with live music, lectures and food demonstrations on a “Rum & Sugar” theme.
The one-day event, which is produced by The Louisiana State Museum, Friends of the Cabildo, French Market Corporation and the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, takes place at the Old U.S. Mint and in the French Market.
Amy Kirk Duvoisin, the marketing director of The French Market Corp., explained that the organizations were looking for a way to increase interest in the Lower French Quarter. And an event that honored the river, something so accessible in that part of town, seemed like the right fit.
“We didn’t have a Mississippi River festival down here, so despite the presence of festivals, that seemed to be a missing link,” said Duvoisin.
She hopes that the Downriver Festival leads to a greater appreciation of the Mississippi.
“You could walk through the city and never see water,” said Duvoisin. “I think now people tend to think of the river as a place of commerce, but they may not think of it as part of the experience of living here … unless it’s a problem, like when a storm is coming.”
The Downriver Festival begins on Saturday morning at the Old U.S. Mint, with a rousing performance by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, the Downriver Festival’s Official 2015 Ambassador; Matt Hampsey, who is also a New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park Ranger; and their band, the Mississippi River All-Stars.
Other featured performers include: The Reverend and the Lady, Panorama Jazz Band, Eddie “Lil Fats” Domino, Colin Lake Band and Honey Island Swamp Band. Towards the end of the day, the Kinfolks Brass Band will lead a secondline from the Old U.S. Mint to the new Crescent Park alongside the Mississippi River.
“We’re going to have a good mix of everything,” said Jason Strada, the executive director of Friends of the Cabildo. “We have genres of music that showcase influences from all around the world.”
Adding an educational aspect to the festival, river-related lectures will take place on the third floor of the Old U.S. Mint. Local historians and authors will discuss tropical foodways, female bootleggers and the history of the sugar and rum trades.
Historian John Magill and documentarian Peggy Scott Laborde will describe the many ways the Mississippi River has affected New Orleans.
And for the first time, cooking demonstrations — relying on rum and sugar, of course — will take place in the French Market. This portion of the event is programmed and produced by Slow Food New Orleans.
Chef Ryan Hughes, of Purloo, for example, will demonstrate the steps for creating a first-class bananas Foster dessert. Gary Granata, of Slow Food New Orleans, will reveal the intricacies of Gyotaku, the Japanese art of producing fish prints on paper. Festgoers in the French Market will be serenaded with Brazilian music by guitarist Blake Amos, offering what Duvoisin describes as a “multisensory experience.”
When guests are ready for respite from the heat, they can head back to the Old U.S. Mint.
“What’s great about this festival is that we have both indoor and outdoor activities that you can move in and out of, easily,” said Duvoisin. “It’s not a three-day conference where you have to pick and choose. You can come down for the day, stay for a few hours, and have a new kind of festival experience.”