In a celebration of Black expression from the table to the stage, the inaugural Honeyland Festival made its official debut in November 2023 right outside of Houston, TX. Curated by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and Uncle Nearest founder Fawn Weaver, Honeyland put a spotlight on the best of Black-owned food and beverages, businesses and creativity, and overall, Black joy. You know we can’t resist good music or good meals, so Offcultured was on-site at the event all weekend to wine, dine, and dance.
Though a cold front brought rain and chill to Sugar Land’s Crown Festival Park, it didn’t sour the mood. We just dressed warmer and continued to bring the love. Honeyland featured some of our favorite brands and artists, including Ghetto Gastro, Trill Burgers, and headliner Mary J. Blige. It was also a chance to connect with the community and support small businesses. Get the full scoop on my experience at the Honeyland Festival below, and be on the lookout for additional interviews and coverage from the event soon!
What Is Honeyland?
In essence, Honeyland is a symbol of triumph over tragedy. That fact was detailed at the event’s opening ceremony on November 10 as organizers recognized the sacrifices of those who came before. The two-day festival was held on land rooted in Indigenous and Black history, which includes the discovery of a mass grave in 2018 that contained 95 incarcerated Black people from the 1800s.
“We pay respects to those who have stewarded this land throughout the generations, and to elders both past and present. The land we’re so fortunate to celebrate Black culture on today was not always a prosperous one,” said Staci Hallmon, IMG Senior Vice President of North America for Events, Arts & Entertainment. “Where a bitter past of enslaved, incarcerated, and forced labor once loomed, let’s bloom with the sweetness of Black creativity and culture this weekend at Honeyland Festival.”
Additional speakers at the ceremony included Richard Gay, COO of Live Nation Urban; Mayor Joe Zimmerman of Sugar Land; Dexter McCoy, Fort Bend County Commissioner; and Alexis Porter, Senior Director, PepsiCo. Pepsi Dig In is a founding partner of the event. Additionally, November 10 was officially recognized Honeyland Festival Day at the opening ceremony by Commissioner McCoy.
MORE ABOUT THE HONEYLAND FESTIVAL 2023
The Honeyland Festival showcases Black businesses, art, and entertainers through three major categories: Beats, Eats, and Sips. The festival provided an opportunity for attendees to immerse themselves in a celebration of culture and creativity as well as small and local businesses through an on-site marketplace. In addition to its lineup of showstopping musical performances, the festival included a variety of panels, culinary demonstrations and tastings, and activities from spades, dominoes, and stacked Uno (the “right” way to play) to line dancing, karaoke, and R&B battles. There were also meet and greets with actress and singer Letoya Luckett, entrepreneurs The McBride Sisters, chef Marcus Samuelsson, and more.
Honeyland Festival 2023 Highlights
Eats & Sips
The food at Honeyland was a whole vibe! Can you expect anything less for a festival in one of the fastest emerging foodie markets in the country? Honeyland also recruited an exciting amount of support from her cousins in New Orleans as culinary talent from restaurants Dakar NOLA and Addis NOLA represented in the vendor areas and the Eats & Sips Stage. Lines for food and drinks were constantly flowing and everyone seemed to enjoy everything they tasted.
My first stop was Empanadas by Lady G, and thank goodness I got there before the rest of the family found out how good they were! A crowd came through for the remainder of the festival, and the Oxtail Dinner Empanada is the reason why. This two-hander lovingly stuffed with oxtail, collard greens, and rice was as delicious as it sounds — maybe even better.
On Day 2, a miracle happened: We were on time and first in line for Bun B’s world-famous Trill Burgers. I’d questioned whether the long lines were all hype, but after trying the Trill OG Burger Combo with fries made to golden perfection, the love is well-earned. Glad I got one!
Another food fave came from Cranky Grannie’s Cinnamon Rolls. The sweet potato cinnamon roll gave me life! It was just the right amount of ooey and gooey, and finishing it while listening to Tems sing was literally a sweet moment.
Beats & Bops
Honeyland knocked it out of the park with the music lineup with solid representation from some Texas faves. Tobe Nwigwe wowed by turning the festival stage into a mint-colored dreamscape. As his wife graced the stage along with their children, it truly became a family affair. We also got some surprise cameos from crowd favorites Luke Whitney and David Michael Wyatt.
Sultry songbird Lenora graced the stage with her entire live band and background vocalists for a full dose of her signature sound. The self-dubbed Architect of Rhythm and Groove had glowing things to say about Honeyland and performing at her first festival in her hometown in a post-show interview with us (soon to come)!
DJ Tay Powers lit the stage up with a fire Afrobeats set! She was whistle-blowing and moving with her dancers showing the city some love. Speaking of which, Houston flexed so hard having so many legends grace the stage in one night. We heard from Scarface, Z-Ro, Slim Thug, Lil Keke, and Paul Wall. And although he wasn’t scheduled to appear, Bun B left the Eats & Sips stage to bless us with a few verses.
Additionally, Honeyland imported some of the finest musical talent of this era with performances by Inayah, Chloe, Coco Jones, Tems, Summer Walker, Miguel, Mary J. Blige, and more.
My Honeyland Festival 2023 Experience
I have to say I enjoyed my time at Honeyland! For its first year ever, I believe the organizers did a great job building a customer experience suitable to a variety of tastes. Aside from the cold and rain, the vibe at Honeyland was high — everywhere I looked, people were smiling, dancing, or excited to taste something. It was the musical experience of a lifetime getting to hear some of my new and old faves all in one place. Tobe, Chloe, and Tems were a shot of energy, and hearing Bun B rap and receive love from his hometown felt like a legendary moment not just for me, but for his fans everywhere.
What I really appreciated about Honeyland is that it would not let you forget that it was also a food festival! They really brought heat with the vendors and culinary talent. Though I didn’t attend any of the add-on Farm to Feast or Honey Brunch events, every time I visited the Eats & Sips tent, it was buzzing with activity as everyone enjoyed the food and drinks there. I even wiggled my way up to the front for a taste of jollof from Chef Serigne Mbaye of Dakar NOLA, and I have zero regrets!
All in all, I’m excited to see how the Honeyland Festival grows.
It joins an expanding list of outdoor festivals working to make their events more accessible and sustainable. (The rentable chairs and filtered water refill stations were a nice touch.) There isn’t much I’d change about my experience except for the weather, and even then, it was kind of fun singing in the rain with a few thousand music fans.
No early predictions on when Honeyland Festival will occur next year, but we hope to be there!
For more Honeyland Festival coverage, click here.
Header: Andra C Taylor Jr.