A couple dozen people gathered Saturday morning to share stories, enjoy a nice brunch and catch up on current happenings around town. But the thing that drew them together is their support for the resurgence of the Brown Sugar Music Festival, planned for Sept. 25.
Like a lot of — almost all of — the large outdoor gatherings in the summer and fall of 2020, Brown Sugar fell victim to the COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time. Which was difficult for organizer Anthony B. Daniels.
“We lost a lot last year,” Daniels said, addressing the group at the fundraising brunch. “But we are going to come back. That’s what this is about. We’re going to raise funds and put on the festival, hopefully at the same level we were at in 2019.”
The festival, an effort of Envision Da Berry, resurfaced in 2018. But there has traditionally been a Brown Sugar celebration in New Iberia’s West End neighborhoods that coincided with the Saturday of the annual Sugar Cane Festival, even if it was not an official entity.
“I was a Brown Sugar Festival queen,” said Robby Carrier-Bethel, one of the attendees. “I was in second grade.”
Carrier-Bethel said the title of queen went to the girl who raised the most money for the festival that year.
“I was at J.B. Livingston Elementary School, and had these little Moon Pies — you remember those Moon Pies? — so I would bring them to school and sell them for a nickel apiece. I didn’t make a lot of money, but it was a lot for the time.”
Daniels pointed to her story as the reason the festival needs to come back, and come back strong.
“Memories like that are what we are seeking to achieve in bringing back the festival,” Daniels said. “It’s about the community coming together. But it starts with what we are doing here today.”
Carl Cooper, president of the Envision Da Berry board, said that the fundraiser brunch is just one of the avenues the organization is moving along in order to make this year’s comeback a memorable one.
“We’ve been doing our monthly markets, and we will be doing more fundraisers as we get closer,” he said. “It’s coming together.”
Cooper said one of the biggest challenges for him is getting the volunteers into the right place, finding the right committee or task for their individual skills and talents.
“We have several committees that I have to set up,” he explained. “We have a committee for production and stage. We have a committee for vendors. We have a finance committee. So it is a matter of getting the right people to the right place.”
Carrier-Bethel said the musical heritage of the West End neighborhood makes it the perfect place for the festival to take root. From the Motown artists of the day to legends like B.B. King and Ike and Tina Turner, they all passed through New Iberia in the early days of rock and roll.
“When I was growing up, that is where the bands would play,” she said. “They would come into the train station on Railroad, which used to be St. Jude. They would play at Leo’s Rendezvous, right there on the corner of Pershing and St. Jude, then they would stay in the hotel on Field Street because they couldn’t stay in the white hotel. All of the music was here.”