The Tremé Fall Festival celebrates the neighborhood’s architecture, history and culture while supporting historic St. Augustine Catholic Church. Held on the first weekend in October, it’s also meant to herald the return of cooler weather, though in south Louisiana, temperatures can be a little relative.
Based on last year’s highly successful launch, expectations are high for the second annual event that kicks off Saturday, Oct. 1 on Henriette DeLille Street. Besides food, crafts and lots to keep the kids entertained, this year’s lineup includes a dazzling display of local musicians, including Kermit Ruffins and Shannon Powell with the Tremé All-Stars, Tank & the Bangas and Michael “Soulman” Baptiste.
Even for New Orleans, which revels in any excuse for throwing a party, the idea of a festival in Tremé was, shall we say, a little daunting a few years ago. But that’s been changing over the past decade, thanks to the hard work of many individuals and groups like the Historic Faubourg Tremé Association, which organized the festival. Cofounder and New Orleans native Naydja Bynum says Tremé Fest is a celebration of the community’s resilience and determination.
The festival brought attention to Tremé’s music and environmental improvements over the last decade, says Bynum, “letting the city know we are serious about our community.” One of the clearest signs of resurgence has been the return of tourism to neighborhood attractions like Congo Square, Tomb of the Unknown Slave and Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.
“Tourism is alive and well with several walking, bike and bus tours coming to Tremé daily. Tourism is a positive sign of growth in our community,” she says.
With its rich history, Tremé can be a natural for tourists. It’s one of the nation’s oldest African-American communities, whose historical figures include the likes of Catholic nun Henriette DeLille, civil rights pioneer Homer Plessy, philanthropist Thomy LaFon, and civil rights activist A.P. Tureaud, along with a host of influential musicians.
Bynum recalls how the idea of Tremé Fest began over a meal. She and her husband, Adolph, were sharing breakfast with Jessica Knox, then-president of the Historic Faubourg Tremé Association, and her husband, Alonzo. All four were brainstorming ways that HFTA could raise money, which led to – what else? – a giant party. They made a list of what they would need to start a festival and decided it should benefit St. Augustine.
What they lacked in experience with planning festivals they made up for in professional know-how and passion. “With a lot of hard work, a lot of uncertainties, a lot of figuring it out and a lot of help and information from others, it all happened,” Bynum says. “It was truly a roller coaster ride with a happy ending. Alleluia!”
The 2015 inaugural event turned into exactly what they had hoped for – an instant classic on the festival scene and a lightning rod for encouraging pride both within and from outside the community.
“And it brought about an economic impact with over 100 individuals – musicians, food and craft vendors, stage and sound technicians, and others – benefitting financially from the goods and services they provided.”
It also allows the community to honor St. Augustine, its beloved spiritual center. Last year, organizers raised $25,000 to help pay for repairing and painting the church. This year’s event ends with a jazz mass on Sunday morning, presided over by Archbishop Gregory Aymond who will mark St. Augustine’s 175th anniversary.
Bynum ticks off a list of priorities for the city as New Orleans continues its recovery – crime, infrastructure, race relations, economic growth and the city’s education system. Equally important is tourism, especially with a focus on neighborhoods.
“New Orleans will always be a place we can proudly call home,” she says.