Baton Rouge Blues Fest treats volunteers

Baton Rouge Blues Fest treats volunteers
(Source: Donna Britt/WAFB)
(Source: Donna Britt/WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - How often would volunteers show up just to remember the fun they had at the original event? Every time, when it's the Baton Rouge Blues Fest.

On May 12, the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation held an appreciation party for volunteers at Gaudet Brothers on Government Street. The interior of the business's artsy hip look was a great setting for a blues band, volunteers drinking from leftover Blues Fest cups and conversing.

Chris Brooks moves through the crowd like one of the hosts. He's been Chairman of the Blues Fest for four years, returning year after year to immerse in the logistics of an ever-growing festival. Brooks points out that Red Stick is unique because of its special brand of blues: Swamp Blues.

I asked why he works so hard, giving so much to the fest.

"I care about the city of Baton Rouge and I care about something that's authentic the city which is the blues, the swamp blues," Brooks said. "And when you have cultural juggernauts like Lafayette and New Orleans, Baton Rouge can get overlooked. But when you have something that's of cultural significance, specifically musically, that needs to be celebrated! I'm from here, and I'm also a musician and so it's something that needs to be celebrated and promoted, and that I have the opportunity to promote that, that's something that I'll be proud of forever!"

Brooks said this was the first time in almost 20 years, that the festival was two days long.

Volunteer Libby Kleppinger says she's been a Baton Rouge swamp blues fan since the 1970s and this was her second year volunteering.

"This year, I was on the early shift, so I can enjoy the music later in the day and I was involved with a lot of "artistic" value and bringing people to the booth with just ripping and tearing materials and create," says Kleppinger as she decorated the booth.

Slater McKay wears a broad smile and says there were 150 volunteers this year, which included the bartenders, general volunteers and ambassadors.

Slater says there were more people volunteering this year because of a change they made.

"We approached the beverage stations a little differently, we had community groups to handle them. So we had some kids from Delta Sigma Pi (LSU professional business fraternity) that handled a station, A-PAWS--the animal welfare group, and then also LANO did one and they all brought 20 to 25 each."

Former WAFB news anchor Maxine Crump is a founding board member of the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation. As a blues "ambassador" for the fest, she helped interview the blues artists before an audience in the Old State Capitol and on the radio broadcasting, live.

"I interviewed Latimore," Crump said. "Interviewing Latimore was wonderful, he had such a great story; how he started out going to college and found out that music was more of an education, more of a draw to him. He d ropped out college and he talked about he had to pick up the phone a bunch of times before he told his mom 'Mom I'm d ropping out of college so I can go and play music'. "

Crump said when his career did not take off right away Latimore refused to ask his mother for money, and it motivated him to keep trying.

You can still see the "Back Porch Blues Interviews" on-line at this YouTube channel:

Every person you ask at this party agrees, they will volunteer for years to come. It's interesting to note that last the 2015 Blues Fest, which rains forced indoors was actually a dress rehearsal for the very successful festival this year.

Slater McKay says because it rained last year, they had practice moving everything indoors, and this year because the festival went two days, they moved everything in at night and brought it back out the next day.

Interested in knowing more about Baton Rouge's Blues Foundation and its programs? Check out this link

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