The place was alive when I first visited Beauvoir Park on Feb. 28 for its second “Soulful Sunday” event. The sun was hot, the music loud, and permeating the air were the rich and varied scents of Chow Yum Phat.
These “Soulful Sundays” are biweekly functions where local artists take the stage with the accompaniment of the resident Big Bad Beauvoir Backing Band. On that day, the guest frontman was Eric Peters, a 29-year-old singer and guitarist from Baton Rouge. Joining him were three familiar faces at the Park: Dylan Disheroon on bass, Tim Marchand on guitar and Julian Anthony on drums; a.k.a. the Big Bad Beauvoir Backing Band. All Baton Rouge natives.
When I asked how long they’d all been playing music during a break between sets, the answers were unanimous: lifers, the lot of them.
“I basically came out with drumsticks,” Anthony chuckled.
The four delivered a blazing set from the Park’s eye-catching Crosscut Stage, which takes its name from the old Albert King song “Crosscut Saw.” Though the setlist of love- and love-adjacent songs such as The Meters’ “Just Kissed My Baby” may have been more appropriate for the show’s original slot on Feb. 14, the effect was not lost; love—or at least something like it—was thick in the air.
And that love is one quality I’ve found to be burrowed deep into everything Beauvoir Park does. It mics the amps, colors the murals, fertilizes the grass—and it’s definitely a key ingredient in promotions and bookings director J. Hover’s line of CBD products, which you can find at one of the many vendor booths present at every BP function.
It’s a love for music, no doubt, but it stretches broader than that. It’s a love for everything music does, for its ability to unite a community, to fuse what would otherwise be a crowd of both close friends and perfect strangers into, at least for the duration of the show, a singular organism, with a kick-drum in its chest and beer in its veins.
Granted, that’s something of which any music venue worth its salt ought to be capable, that power of unification that is such a unique quality of live music. But a little thing called COVID-19 made that very, very difficult for venues across the world. It’s an odd kind of good fortune, then, that Beauvoir Park is an exclusively open-air venue, and with plenty of elbow room at that.
“It’s taken the pandemic to get us where we are today,” Hover told me in the few minutes he could spare to duck away from the hubbub of a particularly high-attendance show. He tells me that, ever since nearly every other venue in town shut their doors, they’ve almost all been like that. He’s been busy, and he’s damned grateful for it.
“My phone is blowing up nonstop,” he said. “One of our biggest challenges has been working in all the bands that are contacting us, or really even staying in touch with them, which is a part of the job I hate.”
But it’s a part of the job he’s had to get used to, and I think he’d agree it’s a fair trade. The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed business at the Park in a way that neither Hover nor the Park’s owner, Les Bratton, could ever have predicted. The place has become a kind of lone bastion amid the mire of closures and cancellations into which the pandemic cast the entire live music industry.
Bratton, who described himself as both the “janitor” and the “chief-cook-and-bottle-washer” at the Park, has loved the place for a long time. He bought the property back in the ‘90s, at which point it was… well, I’ll use his words— “pretty much a shithole.” But, being a landscaper by trade, he made quick work of the place, and now most of the structures you see in Beauvoir Park are the work of his hands.
Back then, he had a loose idea of what he wanted to do with the space, but he told me he never anticipated it would become the venue it is today. It started as more of a personal hang-out spot, somewhere to relax, drink and have bonfires with friends and family.
“It is, without a doubt, a social venue first,” Bratton said. “All the other things come after that. It’s all about family, friends and meeting new people.”
Perhaps that emphasis on the social side of things is why people love the place with such fervor. There’s just something about the Park, some powerful sense of togetherness, that makes anyone who works with it in any long-term capacity form a deep and very personal relationship with it in a way few venues I know of can rival.
Rapper and producer Peter Santos, better known by his emcee name Olde Spanish, has deep roots there. The relationship started years ago, when Santos began putting on all-day music festivals in collaboration with the venue. They started with a pretty low turnout, but, by his third festival, he had garnered enough interest to raise sufficient money via GoFundMe to put the show on without charging admission.
Most recently, Santos bid farewell to the Park with a sort of equal parts birthday bash (his 25th) and going-away party on Feb. 21. It marked his last show in Baton Rouge before his move to New Orleans, where he currently resides.
“It was refreshing to be able to say goodbye in a show,” Santos said, “especially to the venue that, years ago, allowed me to start doing festivals... and allowed me in their space.”
His connection with Beauvoir Park runs deeper than most. Aside from being the venue where he’s shot music videos, hosted festivals and performed the first show billed under his own name, it’s also where he met his long-time girlfriend, Laura Payne. It was his second festival with the park, and at the time she was dating a member of the band slotted to play last. Santos was seeing someone too, but there’s that “social venue” at work—the place brings folks together, even if it’s at the expense of their then-significant others.
“We met there, dog,” he said with a bit of a gleam in his eye as he told me the story in his old Brightside Drive apartment, Payne next to him on the couch. “That’s beautiful.”
Though I’m unsure whether Bratton knows that story, I’m confident he’d get a kick out of it; it epitomizes his vision of bringing people together in the Park in a way that, like it’s recent windfall of bookings, he likely never predicted. The place lives and breathes and grooves just as fervently as the often-inebriated, always-happy flocks of concertgoers that swarm the venue at even the slightest mention of live music.
As vaccines continue to roll out and other venues begin reopening, it’s likely the demand to perform at Beauvoir Park will diffuse a little. But the role it has played throughout this pandemic has been invaluable. It went from being a good place to see live music to being the place to see live music, and to those who have known the Park for years and those who only recently discovered it alike, it will continue to be that place—the place.