Big changes at Bayou Boogaloo: triple admission, barricades on the water, barge deposits | Louisiana Festivals

Bayou Boogaloo, the springtime music and food festival at the southern tip of Bayou St. John in Mid-City, is back, after being drydocked by the COVID pandemic for the past two years. Based on previous attendance figures, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday upwards of 14,000 people will cheer at concerts on the fest’s three stages, patronize the food and beverage booths and peruse the craft tents. Others will bob and drift in the flotilla of rafts, kayaks and canoes that typically cluster between the bayou banks.

The appearance of the sun-soaked, waterside festival will mark another milestone in the city’s return to normalcy. But the Boogaloo has changed since the last fest, three years ago.

The festival charged admission for the first time in 2019, asking $10 per day. This year, admission has doubled and even tripled. For purchased tickets in advance, individual daily admission remained $10 on Friday, but increased to $20 on Saturday and Sunday. At the gate, daily admission will be $15 on Friday, and $30 on Saturday and Sunday. Children under 12 attend free.

bayou barricade

Although those who walked in were charged admission to the 2019 Boogaloo, canoeists and kayakers were still able to paddle Bayou St. John into the midst of the festival without paying admission. But no more.

This year, bayou boaters will encounter a segmented floating barricade near the Dumaine Street bridge that will funnel them toward the bank, where they will be asked to pay. Another boat entry is located at Norman C. Francis Boulevard, near the Lafitte Greenway.

And, for the first time, those Robinson Crusoes who choose to build their own makeshift rafts will be asked to reserve a time to assemble them and set them adrift on the southernmost tip of the bayou, where they will be required to put down a $150 deposit. If the vessel successfully stays afloat and the builders remove it from the bayou, their $150 will be returned.

More new features

Landlubbers will pass through four admission gates, at Dumaine Avenue and Lafitte Street, and two locations on Orleans Avenue. The fest’s footprint will be a bit bigger this year, with Orleans Avenue entrances positioned a block farther from the bayou than in years past, and — according to a map on the festival website — some cross streets will be closed a block from the bayou to better control traffic around the busy site.

This year, the Ideal Discount gas station and convenience food mart will be part of the festival, serving as a sort of general store. The station will not sell beverages in glass containers during the fest.

Boogaloo plans to experiment with cash-free sales in 2022. Some attendees will buy wrist bands that will draw funds from their credit cards to purchase food or drinks. Payment methods for some other sales, including those in the craft area, will be up to the vendors.

Saturday at Bayou Boogaloo 2019

All manner of watercraft fill Bayou St. John during Bayou Boogaloo on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune)

According to festival producer Jared Zeller, the festival will install some fencing to regulate access to the festival site and to protect neighbors’ property, but at this writing, he said he wasn’t certain of the locations.

Rising costs and safety concerns

Zeller said that most changes festgoers will encounter in 2022 reflect the rising cost of putting on the big party and increased safety concerns. For instance, he said, the price of employing off-duty NOPD officers rose from $35 to $45 per hour and private security officer fees rose from $15 to $22 per hour since 2019.

Regrettably, Zeller said, there’s no denying the high incidence of gun violence in New Orleans, so for the first time, those attending Bayou Boogaloo will pass through metal detectors to prevent weapons from entering the site.

Insurance costs have also “ballooned” since 2019, Zeller said.

The site of the fest is especially problematic. For one thing, Zeller said, the banks of the bayou are open to the surrounding neighborhood, which can make the stages and hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment vulnerable to theft or vandalism. “We don’t just get to lock a gate when we leave,” he said. “It’s a street fest in the middle of New Orleans.”

But more worrisome than that is the bayou itself, which despite its idyllic appearance, is a hazard, and regulating behavior on the water is key to keeping insurance costs down. Zeller said he fears someone being injured on underwater debris, or worst of all, an unsupervised kid drowning. Swimming isn’t permitted, he said, and neither are inflated donut-shaped tubes and other such bottomless floats. “A hole (in one’s float) indicates you’re swimming,” Zeller said.


Christopher Gist, left, and James Antin, right, relax in the shade as festival goers enjoy a sunny end to Bayou Boogaloo after a morning of thunderstorms and rain along the banks of Bayou St. John in New Orleans, La., Sunday, May 19, 2019.

Overall, Zeller said, he estimates Bayou Boogaloo cost between $650,000 and $670,000 to produce. He expects this year’s event to cost $700,000. He wistfully recalled that the first Bayou Boogaloo in 2006 cost $50,000.

Bayou Boogaloo is produced on behalf of the Friends of Bayou St. John nonprofit organization, with funds used to “promote stewardship, cultural appreciation, responsible recreation and initiatives that support a clean, healthy Bayou St. John that is accessible to all,” according to the festival website.

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