A trip to International Fest presents an opportunity to explore the rich cultures of world — without leaving New Orleans.
The free event takes place Saturday at the Port of New Orleans and celebrates the diversity of our city and the international community. The exotic food, folk music and vibrant dance performances will make festgoers feel more like jet-setting globetrotters.
Proceeds from International Fest, which is produced by the Spears Consulting Group and the New Orleans South African Connection, will benefit the New Orleans chapter of the American Cancer Society as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But Cleveland Spears, the organizer of International Fest, said the overarching mission of the event is to honor the many ethnicities that make up New Orleans.
“We realized that there was not a legitimate international fest in the area, and we thought it was something that the audience and the local community would enjoy,” Spears said.
“As progressive as New Orleans is, there isn’t enough cross-pollination between different races and classes,” he said. “We wanted to create an experience that would bring people together, regardless of income. It’s programmed in a way that’s appealing to everyone.”
The multifaceted event began a year ago, but was referred to as International Night since it took place on a Saturday evening. More than 3,000 people attended.
This year’s International Fest, however, will be an all-day affair that is expected to attract around 10,000 guests. The expansive festival grounds, set under the Crescent City Connection, include a kids’ area, a music stage and an international food court.
The wide array of menu items, inspired by numerous countries, include the savory yakiniku beef po-boy from Ninja Sushi Bar and Japanese Restaurant, flavorful Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and a variety of Latin American-inspired empanadas from Booty’s Street Food, wood-fired pizzas oozing with melted mozzarella cheese from the St. Claire Pizza food truck and an assortment of vegetable platters from Nile Ethiopian Restaurant.
For food that’s closer to home, attendees can sample offerings from The Munch Factory, which serves contemporary Creole food.
Butterfly Bakery will provide pastries, such as apple pie and hand-painted festival cookies, for those who arrive with a sweet tooth.
International Fest also showcases the many music styles of the world. South African musicians Musa Manzini and Mbuso Khoza, the Israeli band Yemen Blues and Haitian songstress Leyla McCall are on the performance roster. Casa Samba, the local music and dance troupe, will bring Brazilian beats to the festival.
The event will feature live performances from local favorites, like Irvin Mayfield with Los Hombres Calientes, Rebirth Brass Band and Los Po Boy Citos. Russell Batiste of The Funky Meters, Jason Neville and the Wild Tchoupitoulas, and Leo Nocentelli, the founding member of The Meters, will delight the crowd with rousing rhythms.
The festival will close out “Celebrate Africa Week,” which honors the 20th anniversary of the freedom of South Africa. In doing so, it will feature a sophisticated digital media area that live streams the events that are simultaneously taking place in South Africa to mark this milestone.
International Festival also will offer spirited entertainment for children, such as face painting stations and bounce houses, and a bustling arts and crafts section. He encourages guests to bring folding chairs and blankets, as they do for other outdoor festivals.
“Come out and enjoy the space, the music and the atmosphere,” Spears said. “There’s something for the whole family.”