First of all, a quick tip of the hat to Becker Hall, Rene Louapre, Zandy, Sean, and the rest of the Hogs for the Cause team. I remember the inaugural Hogs #1 eleven years ago, which was literally 25 people, a pig, and a keg. It was a great time for a great cause then. Fast forward 11 years, and Hogs is poised to bring in attendance of 30,000-plus over 2 days and has quickly become one of the biggest charitable fundraisers in Louisiana. Nice work, fellas!
Hogs for the Cause is an annual 2-day BBQ competition and music festival held on the grounds of the UNO Lakefront Arena this Friday and Saturday. The BBQ competition boasts ~90 teams of varying sizes that will compete for best bacon dish on Friday and more traditional BBQ categories such as ribs and whole hog on Saturday. The food is diverse despite largely being focused on parts of the pig, and you will find numerous professional chefs working the pits and smokers. The music line-up will be the primary focus of this article and echoes this diversity. Another really cool characteristic of Hogs is that the 2 days of the festival are quite different and appeal to different tastes: simply, Friday night is an adults-only throwdown, and Saturday is a great family-friendly all-day festival experience.
If you know me, you probably know that my preference is for the late night party although I also very much appreciate being able to bring my kids out and enjoy the friendly festival atmosphere the following day (albeit possibly with a bruised liver). The history of the event tells the story of how this dichotomy came to exist between Friday and Saturday. Hogs has been held at 4 locations over the past decade: the original location on the Fly in Audubon Park, a bog in City Park that quickly became too small, the City Park festival grounds which had major drainage issues, and now finally a dry and open space behind the UNO Lakefront Arena. The event was originally only Saturday, and the teams that cooked in the BBQ competition would start on Friday and cook through the night. Throw in some rain and a lot of booze, and Friday night devolved into a Bacchanal that a Roman emperor would be proud of. Eventually, the competitive spirit that fueled the following day’s cook-off was applied to the Friday night party, and it became a marketable event. It’s a little tamer now (which is a good thing) but still tons of fun.
The Hogs music offering evolved similarly, growing organically over the years. Becker Hall has proven to have an adept ear and has booked some really good lesser-known acts that quickly thereafter have become more commercially successful. By no means am I saying that Hogs is the reason for the success of these hard-working musicians, just pointing out that the Hogs line-ups have been ahead of their time, which is a very difficult thing to consistently accomplish in today’s uber-competitive festival landscape. Some past highlights include Robert Randolph, The Revivalists, Eric Lindell, Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Wood Brothers, Greensky Bluegrass, Shovels & Rope, Marcus King, Railroad Earth, and Tyler Childers. It’s an incredibly diverse line-up cultivated carefully by a now-proven ear.
So what are we excited to see this year? Here’s a few highlights of the Hogs for the Cause #11 music line-up. This is easily the festival’s most diverse line-up.
- The Wooks – I’m on a big bluegrass kick lately, and The Wooks will scratch that itch at Hogs. They do a great cover of Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’, and the entire catalog is jig-worthy. Should be a really cool way to kick off the music on Friday night.
- American Aquarium – While this will be AA’s second Hogs appearance, this year the hard-touring band has renewed momentum with a new line-up and will kick off a Spring tour through the northeast and southeast in mid-April. Enigmatic singer BJ Barham’s personal storytelling lyrics and Springsteen-esque voice will be a nice segue from The Wooks to Trampled by Turtles during an especially strong Friday night Bud Light stage run.
- Marco Benevento – The JRAD keyboardist has quickly become recognized as one of the best on the instrument, and Marco is coming into his own as a solo act. Expect a wide range of music including techno-like beats on one end and more classical keyboard/piano on the other. ‘Dropkick’ and ‘At the Show’ have become signature tunes.
- Red Shahan – Texas country is another favorite genre, and Red Shahan is the young buck following in that tradition although a little more Nashville-sounding honky tonk twang compared to veterans like REK. Red has good range as well and can be downright bluesy at times. When we look back at Hogs XI 2-3 years from now, Red Shahan could be the one act with the most meteoric trajectory from here (although Lukas Nelson and The War and Treaty will both be competitive in that category).
- The War & Treaty – One of the most feel-good stories in music today, combat veteran Michael Trotter and his wife Tanya bring joy to the masses with their soulful harmony. Showcasing incredible vocal range, the duo alternates seemlessly between show-stopping solos and perfectly balanced harmonies. Both Michael and Tanya have permanent smiles on their faces, and their shared happiness and love are contagious.
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – I’ve seen Lukas Nelson twice in really diverse context on back-to-back days in 2016. The first show was the Warren Haynes-arranged Last Waltz revival at the Saenger where Lukas more than held his own providing impressive supporting guitar on a stage with veterans like guitarist Warren Haynes and Jamey Johnson and bassist Don Was. As impressive a first introduction as that show was, the next day cemented Lukas in my mind as someone I needed to pay more attention to. Lukas and Promise of the Real played with Neil Young during the deluge that year, and as odd as Neil’s set was (complete with almost getting in a fight with as stage tech about the lights), my fondest memory was watching Lukas go toe-to-toe with another guitar legend and outplay him. This was no supporting guitar. Willie’s son complements his impressive guitar chops with a unique country voice partially inherited from his dad.