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As mask and distancing restrictions continue to loosen, large events starting to return to capital area



BATON ROUGE, La. – Festivals, whether they focus on food or live music, are the heart and soul of Louisiana. They are now beginning to make their return after a year-long absence.

“I think the attitude is 1000 percent, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” Henry Turner of the Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival said.

The Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival, scheduled for June 26 and 27, will be one of the first large events to return after COVID-19 canceled nearly all gatherings over the past year.

“For the most part, we’re all set,” Turner said. “We have our date from the city, sponsors, and people coming. We’ve chosen acts.”

Days later, the Freedom Mile, an Independence Day tradition since 1985, is slated to return.

“We didn’t know whether we’d be able to do this or not,” Ben Cherbonnier said. “Now that the city has given us the permit, now we have to go to the various agencies – the department of transportation and safety, and so forth – and get their signatures on it, and then we’re set to go.”

The event, put on by Club South Runners, draws hundreds each year. With restrictions loosening and large gatherings becoming more acceptable, Cherbonnier is confident they can lace up again.

“I’ll be honest with you, for a while there, I didn’t think it was going to happen for another six or eight months,” Cherbonnier said. “It’s gotten much, much better. I think you’ll see greater participation in the events.”

The City-Parish is permitting large outdoor events on a case-by-case basis, using guidance from the Louisiana Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Baton Rouge Blues Festival, which earlier this year moved its dates from April to September, will soon start the permitting process. As restrictions have eased, organizers say it makes their outlook better while also making the planning process easier.

“A lesson that we’ve all learned collectively over the past year is the importance of the ability to be fluid, and malleable, and adaptable,” Kim Neustrom, the festival’s executive director, said. “We have taken these life lessons over the past year, and sort of shifted it into our planning process with Blues Fest.”