When Jared Zeller launched Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo on Bayou St. John, the neighborhood still was struggling to come back after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. Both the festival and the neighborhood have come a long way. The 2016 lineup is its biggest ever, and includes visits from a couple of legendary bands (albeit with altered lineups).
Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo is on The Wailers' 2016 summer tour, between the band's stops at the fast-growing Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama and Milwaukee's Summerfest in early July. The band is led by Aston Barrett, a member since Bob Marley reorganized the group as his backing band.
A $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts helped Bayou Boogaloo book The Wailers, the Lowrider Band ("Why Can't We Be Friends," "Low Rider," "Spill the Wine") as well as local acts Irma Thomas, George Porter Jr. and Lost Bayou Ramblers.
"It's the largest talent budget we've ever had," Zeller says. "Be-tween the Wailers and the original members of War, which is the Lowrider Band, you're talking about a body of work that's sold millions of records. That's made possible by the grant. For an organization our size, it's pretty prestigious."
The Lowrider Band also has connections to the neighborhood, a point of emphasis for the festival.
"I have been trying to get those guys for many years because Harold Brown, the drummer, lived in Mid-City for years," Zeller says. "Chuk Barber, their percussionist, lived here. Lance Ellis, the saxophonist, is not an original member but he lives here."
The festival has three music stages spread from Dumaine Street to the recently opened Lafitte Greenway near Conti Street. Friday's lineup features The Wailers, Truth Universal, Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers and Lynn Drury. Saturday includes the Lowrider Band, Thomas, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Creole String Beans, Gravity A, Mason Ruffner and others. Sunday brings George Porter Jr. and Runnin' Pardners, CC Adcock, Rory Danger and The Danger Dangers, Motel Radio, Nolatet and others.
Growth of the free festival has included what attendees bring to it. Many have accessed or enjoyed the festival from boats in Bayou St. John.
"A guy came in a pirate ship last year," Zeller says.
In recent years, the festival arranged for canoe and kayak rentals. This year, organizers also have invited people to decorate their boats and reached out to Katrina Brees, who previously organized a Fourth of July boat parade on the bayou, to encourage participation. There are boat races beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The festival expanded its craft beer offerings. Recently opened Urban South Brewery is a sponsor and will offer Holy Roller IPA and Charming Wit. Other regional brews include beers from Parish Brewing Company, Covington Brewhouse, Bayou Teche Brewing and Mississippi's Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company.
The festival also has a kids stage, a large art market, food booths from local restaurants including Brown Butter Southern Kitchen and Bar and MoPho. There is parking at the site of the new Deutsches Haus at 1700 Moss St., with shuttle service to the festival, and at Cortez and Toulouse streets. The festival also organizes a cleanup of the area with NOLA Trash Mob and neighborhood groups.