May 29, 2012 10:50 PM

It came to her last spring in a St. Francisville blueberry orchard, and now the BluesBerry Festival and Cookoff is set for its second go-around Saturday.


Interactively inclusive fest returns. By Dominick Cross

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It came to her last spring in a St. Francisville blueberry orchard, and now the BluesBerry Festival and Cookoff is set for its second go-around Saturday.

"I was just in blueberry bliss and felt like it would be so cool to have a blueberry festival with the blues at the Blue Moon," says Emily Neustrom, event coordinator for the 2nd annual BluesBerry Festival, set for 6 p.m. at the Blue Moon Saloon. "So that's what inspired the festival. I love blueberries, I love the blues, I love the Blue Moon," she says before coming clean with a caveat: "My ulterior motive is people growing and planting blueberries."

Still, it may well be the most interactively inclusive festival in Lafayette as it celebrates fruit, restaurants and music - all local, by the way - while also offering up the BluesBerry Revolution Project, a healthy heaping of community outreach; Blue Dat, a fashion competition; and a bike ride.

"All these things are what I like to do," says Neustrom.

While Cajun music and zydeco are considered the centerpiece of Acadiana's indigenous music culture, Neustrom says blues should not be overlooked. "I feel like the blues needs to get more attention as well," she says.

                                   Emily Neustrom

Neustrom, a singer/songwriter in her own right, is a huge fan of the blues, although she hasn't really played a lot of it just yet. "I love the blues. I love 'em," she says. "I do some blues songs, but I feel like I can't yet do it complete justice. I think there's more blues music in my future repertoire. It's something that's always inspired me. It's such a powerful music, the stories, the history."

The lineup includes A.J. Primeaux hosting a front porch blues jam session, Henry Gray & the Cats, and Cedric Burnside.

With a master's degree in horticulture, Neustrom applies horticultural therapy at the Acadiana Brain Injury Clinic in Youngsville, as well as at Acadiana CARES. "I work with people and plants and produce food. It's kind of like aroma therapy and music therapy," she says. "We have a greenhouse and we grow vegetables with the clients, and that's one of their therapies. So that's my whole passion and career."

Professionally and personally, Neustrom is all about growing your own food. "I want to promote home gardening and vegetable gardening," says Neustrom, who also feels that the blueberry is an under-appreciated entity in the state. "It's incredibly easy to grow in Louisiana, organically. It doesn't have hardly any pests or fungus or diseases," she says, adding that they cost a pretty penny at the grocery, too. "They like acidic soil [just add peat moss] and pine straw. It's incredibly easy to grow."

A little tip: "It's better if you have two [blueberry bushes] so that they can cross-pollinate," says Neustrom. "They can be used as a hedge - they can grow up to 10 feet - it's just amazing. It's a landscape ornament that produces food."

Neustrom also wants "to promote healthy eating and increase food and vegetable consumption for Louisiana folks," she says, before turning back to the fruit at hand. "The blueberry's amazing as far as lowering cholesterol and decreasing cancer. It's really a super food."

A BluesBerry Festival Blues Cruise gets the festival rolling at 5 p.m. at Parc Sans Souci. Bikers must wear blue and will receive a free LA 31 Blueberry Sangria at the festival.

The ride leads to Beaver Park, along the Atakapas-Ishak Trail, where riders will receive their free drink ticket, and ends at the Blue Moon Saloon.

BluesBerry gets under way at 6 p.m. with Primeaux's front porch acoustic blues jam. (The music variety, not the kind you spread on a piece of bread). But speaking of food, the Blueberry Dish Tasting (judging) also begins then and in order to be a judge, you've got to get there early.

At 9 p.m., not only is Henry Gray & the Cats kickin' it, the Blueberry Crown for Best Restaurant and the Best Dressed in Blue winners will be announced. Cedric Burnside plans to get started at 11 p.m.

A portion of the proceeds of the festival will go to the BluesBerry Revolution Project with a goal to plant blueberry orchards at local schools as a form of agriculture education as well as for local farm start-ups to help supply the markets.

Poster artwork is by Athanase Fontenot, and it features Andy Cornett, the late blues harmonica player, bassist and promoter of Henry Gray & the Cats. The festival pays tribute to Cornett.

Competing restaurants include Café Vermilionville, Carpe Diem! Gelato & Espresso Bar, Cochon, French Press, Pamplona Tapas Bar, Saint Street Inn and Sandra's Café/R&R Artisan Foods.

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