Shortly after Mardi Gras season ends, New Orleans picks right back up into high gear with the next season. For everyone else, it’s springtime; but, for us in New Orleans, it’s festival season. Because, as we say, there’s no rest for the wicked.
Kicking off the festival season is Hogs for the Cause on the weekend of March 28-30. It is arguably one of the best and most important of the local festivals, because it includes a very significant cause – in addition to the food and music that makes up the formula for a well-rounded New Orleans festival. The annual three-day event raises money to offer monetary relief to families with children who are fighting pediatric brain cancer.
As if the cause wasn’t enough reason to attend, the event is a huge success as evidenced by their steadfast growth over the past 11 years. The marathon event includes the Thursday night patron party and Friday’s bacon night – both of which lead up to the main event on Saturday, where over 90 teams compete in a pork cook-off. But, you won’t just get the meat sweats from attending Hogs, you’ll also sweat while dancing to over 20 bands playing on three different stages – covering genres that range from indie rock to funk, and everything in between.
Sounds daunting? Read on to get the insider info on the event for how to take on Hogs like an expert. WARNING: may induce meat sweats ahead.
1. First, and foremost, it’s about the cause.
The funds raised during Hogs for the Cause (and throughout the year by the charity) support grants that are provided to families with children fighting brain cancer. This helps families cover expenses like relocation, travel and housing – things that typically aren’t covered by insurance, but can cause a financial burden to families that are already carrying enough stress. The charity also supports Hogs House, a housing facility located on the Children’s Hospital campus that provides families with a place to stay, while also offering a place where both children and families can socialize and received support from each other.
The event first started eleven years ago, when founders organized a pig roast at the Fly for a family friend whose child was battling pediatric brain cancer. The first year was such a success that the event continued at the Fly before realizing the impact that they could make on other families. Now, Hogs is held at the festival grounds outside the UNO Lakefront Arena, raises about $1.5 million with help from the participating teams at the cook-off, and has supported over 600 families with grant money.
2. It’s socially acceptable to dress in theme for the patron party.
On Thursday night, celebrate Hogs from a new perspective at their patron party. This year’s party will be at Calcasieu, away from the festival grounds, for a more formal experience. The party will feature food provided by the Link Restaurant Group, cocktails by CureCo, and wine by Neat Wines.
The patron party themes are always clever and include a witty pork pun – this year’s theme being the British-themed Piggish Invasion. The theme leaves a lot to the imagination when it comes to picking out an appropriate outfit (example: are you dressing like a Beetle, a duchess, Austin Powers?) While themed outfits and costumes aren’t required, supporters of the cause and attendees have been known to come dressed with a situational outfit to address the night’s theme, which makes the patron party a little more exciting than the average cocktail party. Last year for Hoggy Shack, attendees came dressed in their best golf attire, only appropriate for Hogusta National Gold Club. Additionally, Hogs has some of the best supporters around, which translates to some pretty impressive items up for grabs in the silent and live auctions (think: private dinners, group trips, and fabulous art).
3. A great place to discover new music, like real life Spotify.
With over 20 bands playing across three different stages, there is music for everyone’s taste. The combination of local and national bands range in genres from funk, jam, alternative country, rock, R&B, and roots rock. The lineup is unique, and varies so much from other local festivals that it has become a great place to see favorite acts from outside New Orleans, and even discover new bands.
This year’s lineup is no exception, and includes: Trampled by Turtles (Bluegrass), Samantha Fish (Blues, Rock), American Aquarium (alt. country), Marco Benevento (jam), Low Cut Connie (Rock), Boyfriend (Rap Cabaret), The Iceman Special (funk), Dumpstafunk (funk), Lost Bayou Ramblers (Zydeco), and many more. Check out the full lineup and schedule.
4. The real parties start after the festival closes down on Bacon Night.
It’s called bacon night, so that should be enough reason to attend Friday night’s festivities, but the fun really starts after the bacon fest. While the main event is Saturday, there is still plenty of eating to do on Friday night, with teams offering samples of their own take on bacon. Whether it is prepared sweet, savory, or even in its truest form, celebrating the cured meat should always be a Friday night option.
After the bands stop playing around 11 p.m., the real parties begin. Since the teams are up all night preparing their dishes for Saturday’s main event, they host some epic parties late into the night/early into the morning. There’s a cover charge (for the cause, of course) to get into the parties, but it includes drinks, cover bands and DJs. This is a great way to continue to contribute to the cause, burn off the bacon, and further support and cheer on the teams. Insider tip: Boar’s Nest and Fleur de Que always deliver.
5. Treat yourself to VIP.
I hate to sound like a snob, but if you can, splurge for the VIP status. It includes a loaded wristband, access to the VIP tent that includes open bar with specialty drinks (maybe a frozen jack and diet?), and a place to sit in the shade right by the stage. Need we say more?
6. Maximize your eating experience.
With over 90 teams offering unique BBQ samples, it can be overwhelming. Don’t try to be too ambitious on the first round, because this is a marathon not a sprint. If you want to maximize your eating capacity to get the best out of the day, follow some simple tips. Here’s some cook off math, if you will.
- Do your research and define your priorities and secondary options. Always leave room for some unexpected food options.
- Cover the preliminary lap first, before getting seconds of your favorites. It may be tempting, but it’s a risky bet to concentrate all your efforts on one option.
- Don’t waste calories on carbs and unnecessary grains during your preliminary run through. You’ll lose momentum early in the day.
- Work up an appetite with dancing in between tastings.
- Some booths are flashier and bigger than others, but don’t judge a team by its booth. Definitely visit and support them all, and follow your taste buds.
- Bring zip lock bags or pants with plenty of pockets to smuggle the leftovers.
- Bring the kids too. While some of the events, such as the patron party and late nights, are for the adults, the festival itself is family friendly. It’s a great way to spend the day outdoors listening to music, eating food, and maybe enjoying a few libations, while bonding with the family. That is how NOLA kids are raised after all. But, if that doesn’t assure you, stop by the kid area, equipped with bounce houses and activities to keep them contained for enough time to sneak in the bacon s’more that you really didn’t want to share with them anyway.