Celebrating the deep roots of "the northernmost Caribbean city," NOLA Caribbean Festival is back for the seventh year with a more regional focus and a full slate of cuisine, music, dance and culture.
Founder and organizer Joel Hitchcock Tilton has spent the past year rebranding and expanding the festival, which he describes as his passion project outside of his career as a proprietor and urban farmer at Paradigm Gardens.
Raised by a musician father who exposed him to a variety of international music, he became interested in reggae at an early age, which set the ball in motion. A graduate of Xavier University, he has also spent some time living in Brazil and Columbia. His brother is a touring musician, so Tilton has also spent time traveling with him to other Caribbean nations, including Cuba and Jamaica.
This past year, he has worked to make the Caribbean Fest become more of a “regional” event, drawing in guests, vendors and artists from beyond New Orleans. He says that many of the attendees are from Caribbean nations, as well as cities including Lafayette, Washington, D.C., Houston and Atlanta.
The festival itself is two days (June 23-24) at Central City BBQ, but there are seven Caribbean-themed events, including pre-parties, taking place starting on June 21. A kick-off party is scheduled at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street; the next day, on June 22, the Drifter Hotel will host a Caribbean-themed pool party.
The festival also coincides with Caribbean Heritage Month, celebrated in June.
“Part of what makes us unique is the boutique nature of the festival,” he says. “It’s smaller and different” than other New Orleans festivals. He also has made an effort to hire vendors who don’t normally sell their goods at other local festivals.
While cuisine from the island nations, as well as New Orleans staples, are a major part of the festival, so too are the live musical acts and roving celebrations.
A particular highlight of this year’s festival is the “Colour Me Krazy Paint vs. Powder parade” which will start at 1 p.m. on Saturday (June 23) at the intersection of Camp and Canal streets, featuring “energetic” DJ’s, costumed dancers and live bands, who will wind their way through the Central Business District before revelers eventually make their way to the fest’s headquarters at Central City BBQ for festivities that last until 10 p.m.
Registration for the parade includes food, drink, international DJs and performers, entrance to the NOLA Caribbean Festival and “all the paint and powder you can handle," organizers say.
“The main takeaway is to remind people that New Orleans is an integral part of the Caribbean,” says Tilton.
NOLA Caribbean Festival
WHEN: June 23-24
WHERE: Central City BBQ, 1201 Rampart St.