Kenny Neal’s Family & Friends
Heritage Blues Festival
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Story and Photos by Joseph A. Rosen
Kenny Neal’s Family & Friends Heritage Blues Festival sounded good to me. When I found out that my friends Kenny Neal and his manager, Paul Benjamin, were putting it on I knew I wanted to be there. As much as I love blues in any venue, I find it especially good down south, where the music is part of day-to-day life and close to its roots. It’s just different down there.
Baton Rouge has long been a blues center. Slim Harpo broke national hits like “Scratch My Back” and “King Bee” from there. Tabby Thomas, father of Chris Thomas King, ran his club, Tabby’s Blues Box, there. Rayful Neal was the patriarch of both the Baton Rouge blues scene and the Neal family. Kenny is the oldest of the ten Neal children, and along with his, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces, keeps the flame of Baton Rouge blues alive.
The festival was held at the Louis A. Mouch Jr. Multi-Purpose Facility in Port Allen, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge. This covered arena had a dirt floor, bleacher seating, and is used as much for rodeos and stock shows, as it is for concerts.
The festival had an array of local gospel, soul, and blues talent on both the smaller Discovery Stage and the main stage, which featured national headliners like Luther Kent, Chris Thomas King, Henry Gray, Ray Neal Jr., and, of course, the Neal Family Band, fronted by Kenny himself. All the bands were Baton Rouge and/or Louisiana based: close to their roots.
Original members of Slim Harpo’s band were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and then shared the stages with the bands. There were vendors of all sorts and the food booths featured lots of regional tastes from barbeque to catfish po’ boys to crawfish étouffée, and more.
The weather, unfortunately, did not fully cooperate. The day before and the day after were great, but there was rain in the skies on Saturday morning. That probably held back some early attendees, but the crowd grew as the day cleared and since the venue was covered everyone stayed dry and comfortable.
What I found so special about this festival was the sense of community, friendship, family, and, yes, heritage. The audience was multi-generational, multi-ethnic, and universally friendly. There was very little separation between the audience and the performers. Everyone seemed to be greeting old friends, giving a shout out to the musicians, catching up on news and gossip, and generally sharing in the good time.
I met Kenny’s mom Shirley, his grandkids, a lovely lady with a big beehive hairdo who introduced herself as “Grannie,” real-deal cowboys, a couple who said “We’ve been together 25 years” and then kissed as I took their picture, and many, many more nice folks.
In addition to the music, it was all these folks and the good feeling that made this a special event. I hope that the photos of these folks, and those of the musicians, will tell the story of the day. It’s a story of the music, the event, the people, and the faces in the crowd.
If you’re looking to attend a blues event that captures the real deal southern heritage and hospitality, as well as great music, I strongly recommend you check out the 2013 Kenny Neal Family & Friends Heritage Blues Festival. It is going to be an annual event.
Also, there will be a California version of the Festival on April 15, 2012, in Sacramento, California. Check out Kenny’s website for details on that event and future festivals.
Joseph A. Rosen is one of the most recognized, published, and awarded photographers in the blues.
As always, our photographers share their work with you for your enjoyment. If you wish to share or use the photographs for any other purpose please contact our offices or the photographer.
About the Author: