The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation launched the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival as a blues festival, but the organizer of a local festival with a similar name objected to the similarity. Inspired by the popularity of the Oak Street Po-boy Festival, the foundation added barbecue to the event, says foundation Communications and Marketing Director Scott Aiges.
"Music events are important to New Orleans people," Aiges says. "But food events are crucial. So we try to associate our festivals with food."
While blues and barbecue seem to go hand-in-hand, New Orleans isn't traditionally known for barbecue.
"Austin (Texas), Memphis, St. Louis and so many other places are known for barbecue," Aiges says. "But it was a struggle to find vendors that satisfied those styles."
Originally, many festival vendors took familiar Louisiana approaches to outdoor grilling, and there were few who focused on slow cooking brisket or ribs or pork over low heat. But in recent years, such local barbecue restaurants and popups have come a long way. Another local festival, Hogs for the Cause, grew from a pig roast among friends to a nationally recognized barbecue event, and its spring competition featured 95 barbecue teams. Now, the Jazz & Heritage Foundation has a barbecue consultant, Colleen Rush, co-author of Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons, and organizers choose vendors on the merits of their barbecue.
One of the festival vendors is Blue Oak BBQ, which opened its brick and mortar location on North Carrollton Avenue in April, just in time to catch crowds on their way to or from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Ronnie Evans and Philip Moseley started Blue Oak as a popup at Grit's Bar in 2012. They later moved to Mid-City to take over the kitchen spot at the bar and music venue Chickie Wah Wah.
Evans and Moseley grew up in New Orleans, but they learned to barbecue in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Evans worked for a Moe's Original Bar B Que franchise and convinced Moseley to join him. They also trained at the company's headquarters in Colorado. But they opened Blue Oak based on their own trial and error. They slow cook brisket for 15 to 16 hours and pork butt for 13 hours, Moseley says. At the festival, they will serve ribs smoked for six hours and Frito pie, a brisket-based chili topped with sour cream and Fritos chips — a dish popular in Texas, Moseley says. They also will serve roasted garlic macaroni and cheese.
The vendor lineup features several restaurants that are younger than the festival. Bywater's The Joint is slated to serve smoked pork, brisket and chaurice sausage sandwiches. Saucy's BBQ in Uptown will serve brisket, pulled pork and boudin links.
A couple of vendors will be familiar to Jazz Fest fans. Walker's Southern Style BBQ will serve its cochon de lait po-boy dressed with coleslaw. Vaucresson Sausage Company, which has served food at every Jazz Fest, will offer po-boys filled with crawfish sausage, barbecue chicken sausage or Creole hot sausage. There also are seafood options, including New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp po-boys and char-grilled oysters. There are a dozen vendors offering some sort of barbecue, plus three offering desserts or ice cream.
The Blues & BBQ Festival was one of several Jazz and Heritage Foundation festivals launched following Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm, the foundation sponsored one-day neighborhood events from Treme to Algiers. After the floods, the foundation refocused on local genres of music and expanded to two and three days to give local musicians gigs. The blues fest has grown to include many visiting acts as well.
Tab Benoit and Houston's The Suffers kick off the festival Friday night, and the lineup fills two stages Saturday and Sunday. Taj Mahal, Alvin "Youngblood" Hart & Muscle Theory, Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Colin Lake and Jimmy "Duck" Holms perform Saturday. On Sunday, there is Tucka, Cedric Burnside Project, Little Freddie King, Johnny Sansone and others.
For Blue Oak, it's the beginning of its festival season. It'll sell barbecue at Oak Street Po-boy Festival (Oct. 23) and Voodoo Music + Arts Experience (Oct. 28-30). Next year, Evans and Moseley hope to join the vendors at Jazz Fest.
"It's good to get our food out there," Moseley says. "But we just like doing festivals. They're fun."