Getting bigger and tastier every spring, the barbecue festival and fundraiser Hogs for the Cause is celebrating its eighth year Friday and Saturday at City Park Festival Grounds. The event includes a cooking competition, a full schedule of music, plenty of food and drink and a nice-sized donation to charity.
Begun in 2009 by lifelong friends Becker Hall and Rene Louapre, the first Hogs for the Cause was held at the Fly overlooking the river in Audubon Park. Believing it ought to be more than a “pig fest, drunk fest,” Hall said, the friends chose to raise money on behalf of the Sarrat family, whose young son battled an incurable form of brain cancer. They raised $7,500 that first year.
“We try to curate as high a quality food, beverage and music as possible, so that we can deliver the best possible experience,” Hall said.
That’s why more than 100 teams of whole hog barbecue professionals will descend on New Orleans to cook up various pork products and compete in the Ben Sarrat Jr. High on the Hog Cook-off presented by Children’s Hospital, named after the Sarrats’ son, who passed away in 2010.
These teams are providing some of the best whole hog barbecue you’ll find anywhere.
“You have teams from all over the country that are tried and true barbecue champs,” Hall said, “like 17th Street Barbecue out of Illinois, Ubon’s out of Mississippi, Fox Brothers out of Georgia — you’re getting the best barbecue in the country.”
Skill, intricacy and creativity rule in this cook-off. Many of the teams’ tents have become so advanced that the dining experience they’re providing is quite beyond expectation.
“They keep growing and putting together these massive and incredible booths,” Hall said. “They’re more like pop-up restaurants. I think people catch wind that not only are these guys out there cooking great food, but it’s a sight to see. It has become that kind of experience that you just can’t see anywhere else. It piques your curiosity.”
But barbecue is only one part of the festival, which is why attendance has steadily increased every year. More than 30,000 people attended last year’s Hogs for the Cause, one of the reasons why it was able to raise $765,000 for pediatric brain cancer. Hogs is the No. 1 funding source for this specific cancer in the country.
On Friday, only about half the teams will be serving food, but it is the biggest night for music with headliner Shovels and Rope playing.
Friday night is the bigger party, the organizers said. It can be a truly wild evening as each of the teams throws a bash in its tent.
But it’s the food-music-charity trifecta that continues to bring larger and larger crowds every year.
The lineup for this year also includes Deer Tick, Tab Benoit and Sweet Crude. There’s something for everyone, according to Hall.
“If we can’t get you with the food, we’ll get you with the music,” he said. “If we can’t get you with the music, we’ll get you with the cause.”