Audubon Soul Fest: Great Food, Great Music


Trey Guillotine, Entertainment Editor

If you found yourself stuck in traffic on Magazine Street this weekend, it was for good reason. On March 7 and 8, the Audubon Zoo held its 17th annual Soul Fest celebrating African American Culture. The event centered around Audubon Zoo’s Capital One stage, between the Audubon Tea Room and the Sea Lion Exhibit. New Orleans locals filled the field with fold-out chairs and blankets as their entire families enjoyed the festival. “Soul Fest has evolved into one of New Orleans’ premier celebrations of black history, featuring the best in African American food, live music, and handmade crafts,” says Eileen Lumar-Johnson, Audubon Zoo’s Director of Community Relations and the festival organizer. “Soul Fest hosts between 15,000 and 20,000 zoo visitors each year.”

The stage hosted jazz and soul musical guests such as The New Orleans Horns Show and Dance Band, Sierra Green & The Soul Machine and The Nayo Jones Experience. In between musical performances, guests could visit a number of organization tables, gift vendors and food vendors, if they were willing to wait in line. It seemed everyone was excited to try out the various offerings of New Orleans’ Soul Food from vendors like Cafe’ Dauphine, Down Home Creole Cookin’, and Palmer’s Cuisine. Soul Fest also hosted a few special guests, such as the mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell. Each year, Soul Fest recognizes local African American history makers. Recognizing the first female Mayor of New Orleans was indeed a great memory, says Lumar-Johnson.

“I love the fest! The zoo is a beautiful place,” says Dinah Campbell, a long time Soul Festival attendee. “My family has a food vendor and we’ve been here since day one, Palmer’s Cuisine, and we have the jerk chicken, the Caribbean fish, the jambalaya and the red beans and rice. And we’ve been in the festival since 2005 when it first started.” 

An obviously strong aspect of the Soul Fest is its focus on the New Orleans’ African American culture and its intertwining with the natural world. “Families can converge in a safe space and learn a greater appreciation of the need to conserve our natural world for future generations,” says Lumar-Johnson. During the festival, the zoo remained open for its regular hours, allowing guests to take their own excursions to visit some of their favorite animals. “It’s a great place to come with family. You get to take advantage of going into the zoo, then when you walk around and look at the animals you can enjoy the festival where there’s great food, great activities and wonderful organizations,” says Campbell. 

Campbell wasn’t just attending the Soul Fest as a guest. She was running a table and recruiting new members for her organization, The New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network. “We try to showcase businesses that are multicultural, African American, Latino, Asian businesses and give them a chance to serve tourists coming in,” Campbell said. “The majority of the time, they’re directed to Bourbon Street or Canal Street. Whether it be for a wedding, family reunion, or girls’ trip, if they want different services, they can find out about our merchants here and give businesses that are multicultural a chance to work with the tourists.”

Many other businesses and organizations like Dinah’s populated the edges of the festival grounds, but the real excitement was happening among the guests. Those who had initially staked their claim on the grass with fold-out chairs were now dancing with neighbors of every culture that New Orleans has to offer. Campbell is correct in the Audubon Zoo being such a perfect location for this kind of festival. Year-round, the  Audubon Institute shares with its guests the different animals of the world and their natural habitats. “Soul Fest brings people from all ethnic backgrounds together to celebrate nature and to promote environmental stewardship and family recreation,” says Lumar-Johnson, who is always excited to welcome “thousands of locals to the world-class Audubon Zoo to enjoy great music, food and learn more about Audubon’s mission.”


Photo by Karl Anderson on Unsplash