Food and Funk Festival

What: New Orleans Funk & Food Festival
Where: WaMu Theater
When: Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016
Cost: $30
Author: Kris Collingridge

In its first year, with music curated by Paul Allen’s Upstream Music Fest + Summit team, the New Orleans Food & Funk Festival attempted to blend New Orleans food traditions with great music. The festival succeeded wildly in terms of the music, which was one of the best lineups I’ve seen in a long time.

Here’s how the festival did overall:

First, the irritating:

This festival was unfortunately full of the kind of petty annoyances that make you dislike festivals. Not enough garbage, not enough seating, nowhere to put your drink, no re-entry (sorry, smokers). Really terrible booze at a couple of the bars – we’re talking room-temperature 10 Hands chard for $9 (sorry, foodies). No signs at the bars to tell you what you can get there (a couple of the bars served quite delicious New Orleans-style cocktails)  before you got in one of the dizzyingly long lines and sadly ended up with a lukewarm glass of bad wine.

Next, the actually bad:

Food Festival
Food Festival

The lines to some of the food vendors – which included local heavy hitters such as Roux, Where Ya At Matt, and Toulouse Petit --  stretched from one end of the venue to nearly the other. It was line chaos. I asked a couple of resigned-looking people at the front of the Roux line how long they had been waiting, and they told me it had been an hour and 40 minutes. We didn’t get to taste any of those restaurants’ food, which I found very disappointing as I’m a Matt’s and Toulous Petit fan, but I’ll barely wait in a line that long at Disneyland. You’d be better off going to one of those restaurants first, sitting down and having a meal, then making your way to the theater for the music.

And now, the good:

We were in and out of one of Taylor Shellfish’s two booths with six succulent, expertly shucked oysters ($10) in about 6 minutes because they were one of the few food vendors without a line. The oysters were the only reason we didn’t explode in hangry rage.

New Orleans Music - Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias
New Orleans Music - Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias

But, really, the very best thing about the festival – the main reason you’d pay $20-$30 to be here – was the music. For the money, the music was a total bargain. The lineup was stellar, a mix of well-known local acts (Polyrhythmics, DJ Greg Vandy) and out-of-town bands I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise: From Portland, Ural Thomas and The Pain, and, from New Orleans, Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr and the Wild Magnolias and Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen.

Ural Thomas and The Pain
Ural Thomas and The Pain

Ural Thomas, who opened the out-of-town portion of the show, was an energetic showman who strutted and danced his way through a set of soul-inflected songs. New Orleans “Indian masking” band Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias (which includes Dollis’ mother, Queen Rita) came out on stage dressed in fantastical Mardi Gras finery, which they removed piece by piece as the music – hard-driving funk – heated up. By the time they ended their set, there was a full-on party on the dance floor in front the expansive, beautifully lit stage.

New Orleans-based vocalist, pianist and JazzFest mainstay Jon Cleary, with his band The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, wrapped up with a rollicking set of NOLA-style jazz and funk. It was the perfect end to one of the best evenings of music I had been to in a long time.

Bottom line: In 2017, I would gladly drop $30 for the music alone. Unless the organizational glitches get worked out next year, I would eat beforehand.

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