Cindy Wonderful is nothing short of her name. Before becoming the owner of Baton Rouge art house Chez Fab, Wonderful toured Europe as half of the electro-hip-hop group Scream Club and even started her own record label. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the Chez Fab midtown property named Wonderground, that was home to a community garden fundraiser event with all sorts of vendors and live entertainment.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by a group partnering with Wonderful to build a community garden at Wonderground.
Swampfly is a group devoted to making a greener Louisiana by creating public green spaces in areas around Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette. It does plenty of landscaping work, including building pollinator beds and edible gardens and incorporating native species beneficial to Louisiana’s environment into their landscapes. On Saturday, Nov. 7, Swampfly arrived at Wondergound to sell plants that go toward funding the community garden at the location. The garden, along with the community pantry and fridge, will make Wonderground a sustainable venue.
As I wandered around the venue, I found a variety of art vendors such as senior printmaking student Kelly LeBlanc and ceramics post-baccalaureate Zoe Valdina. Valdina is from New York but was determined to come to LSU for its prestigious ceramics program. These two students are members of the tight-knit Baton Rouge art community. Everyone seemed to know all the other people at the venue. From local Black comic extraordinaire Blerd-ish to street photographer and film developer Bruce Williams, Wonderground proved to be a diverse and inclusive spot.
Inside of the building on the Wonderground grounds was unfinished but aesthetically pleasing. The walls were covered with spray paint similar to, but not as majestic as the large Wonderground mural on the side of the building. Near the door was a bathroom with a bio-gas toilet in the works. Outside was a water container set up with the help of Arthur Hebert who was also hosting a wood crafting workshop. These different components are there for the sole purpose of helping Wonderground be an off-grid, fully sustainable facility.
After a brief intermission, I returned to see events occuring which partained to Wonderful’s standing with the music community in Baton Rouge. She is known in the area for her 96.9 FM DJ show “Baton Rouge Locals Only.” At 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Wonderful gives shine to local artists regardless of their status. Many artists receive their first bit of airtime on the radio show. This platform has garnered plenty of respect within the music community.
A previous feature on “Locals Only,” a band named Hyckoriii was performing an inviting set up. The performance centered around spirituality and was dependent on audience interaction. Using its stage time, the band hosted a fellowship with plenty of other acts and a group of moderators which included Wonderful. After each set, audience members were asked to give feedback or share questions they had pertaining to the performances. The band put forth a performance with rap, R&B and folk elements that was unlike anything I had ever seen.
The band’s music was just as unprecedented as its engagement with the audience. Much of the audience was skeptical regarding the format. After all, it is not often that audience members are called up at random to share what they have going on in their lives. This conscious up-front effort of building community proved more successful as the night progressed. Even those not engaged directly became invested.
Baton Rouge weather influenced the end of the night as the acts were forced inside. While some left, the event transitioned well into the building. The atmosphere contained the same energy but was suddenly cozier than it was before. Everyone was forced a bit closer in as the next act came on. A band named The Fellas delivered a hype performance that livened up the crowd to formally end the night.
A few young rappers who had never seen a stage prior to this night shuffled up to the stage as the crowd size dwindled to a few stragglers. They were cheered on by all who remained and left with smiles and more confidence than when they came. This moment seemed to be the theme of the night and of Wonderground itself — tight knit communities centered around creativity at a venue acquired for the sole reason of bringing people together.