The inaugural Honeyland Festival was a feast of Black creativity

The best in Black food and spirits joined some of today’s top Black music artists at Houston’s two-day Honeyland Festival.

“Aspiration and inspiration meet delicious” is how Chef Marcus Samuelsson, owner of Red Rooster Harlem and Red Rooster Miami, described the inaugural Honeyland Festival, which took place in Houston over Veterans Day weekend. Tasked with overseeing and curating the culinary portion of the two-day event, Samuelsson, along with an all-star team of Black chefs, spirit brand owners, podcasters, tastemakers and musical acts came together for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Honeyland Festival, Tabitha Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Kelis, Mary J. Blige, Tems, Coco jones, Lucky Daye, Black foodies, Black chefs, Black festivals, Black food culture, Houston, theGrio.com
(Left to right) Choyce Brown and Tabitha Brown (Photo: DeAnna Taylor)

Live from Houston, aka “H-Town,” festival attendees were treated to the sounds of Mary J. Blige, Miguel and multi-Grammy nominee Coco Jones among many more. It was a fellowship, a camaraderie among industry friends. There were lots of delicious bites and sips from some of the country’s most talented Black chefs and mixologists, and tons of inspirational gems. And, keeping it culturally relevant, a spades tournament.

It was truly a weekend of Black excellence and all-around love — even over two rainy days. Egos aside, vendors and attendees alike came together in an immense level of pride, not only in their work and the works of their peers but our overall contributions as a culture to music, spirits — and, of course, food.

Honeyland Festival, Tabitha Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Kelis, Mary J. Blige, Tems, Coco jones, Lucky Daye, Black foodies, Black chefs, Black festivals, Black food culture, Houston, theGrio.com
Marcus Samuelsson speaks onstage for “Coffee & Community” during Honeyland Festival Day 2 on November 12, 2023 in Sugar Land, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images for Honeyland Festival)

In the thick of all the Honeyland action, theGrio got up close and personal with some of our faves. From the hottest moments on the festival’s music stage to a sit-down dinner personally curated by Kelis to chats with the likes of Tabitha Brown, The McBride Sisters and Bun B — here’s everything you missed from the inaugural celebration.

Coco Jones, Chloe, Tems and more tore down the stage

What’s a gathering of our people without music? We’ll wait. On brand for the rest of the weekend, Honeyland brought some of the hottest acts in contemporary music to its stage. Singer Chloë Bailey gave an energetic set on day one, performing some of her top hits, including “Treat Me” and “Church,” while accompanied by backup dancers.

That evening concluded with heavy hitters Tobe Nwigwe, Summer Walker and the uber-talented Miguel — all bringing their best for the crowd. There was even a surprise performance by Houston’s own LeToya Luckett during Walker’s set, which fans went absolutely crazy over.

Day two was just as memorable. Although cloudy skies over Houston brought rain, it was the perfect backdrop for Coco Jones, who did her now-viral rendition of SWV’s “Rain,” along with her own Grammy-nominated song, “ICU,” among others.

As for the evening lineup, the poncho-sporting crowd braved the elements to hear Lucky Daye’s sultry vocals, international sensation Tems, as well as a fitting 50th-anniversary tribute to hip-hop featuring H-Town’s most revered lyricists, including Paul Wall, Bun B and Slim Thug. The night ended with the queen herself, Mary J. Blige, reviving all her classics and her signature “Mary bop.”

Honeyland Festival, Tabitha Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Kelis, Mary J. Blige, Tems, Coco jones, Lucky Daye, Black foodies, Black chefs, Black festivals, Black food culture, Houston, theGrio.com
Mary J. Blige performs onstage during Honeyland Festival Day 2 on November 12, 2023 in Sugar Land, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Honeyland Festival)

Tabitha Brown, Angela Yee, Jermaine Stone and more brought their podcasts to life

Beyond the Black chefs and mixologists on the ground doing their thing, Honeyland Festival also brought out the top Black podcasters of this generation. Highlights included Noreaga and his “Drink Champs” crew and “Mr. Hip Hop and Wine” himself, Jermaine Stone, explaining the perfect songs to play while sipping our vino. But, a highlight for many was famed vegan sensation Tabitha Brown and radio host Angela Yee coming together for a live conversation.

Brown sat down with theGrio to give us the rundown on her Honeyland experience just before her set with Yee.

“The big thing is, this is a culmination of Black culture, and I’m a part of that, so I had to be here,” the Emmy-nominated “Tab Time” host explained.

“When they asked me, I said absolutely! On day one, I got to watch Tobe and Fat, and you know they’re like family. … But all around, the energy and people here have been such good vibes. I love seeing Black folk come together with so much love and peace. As far as what I’ve eaten this weekend, Mo Better Brews, honey! I had a little fried mushrooms, some grits and a sandwich. I’ve got to have it every time I time to Houston.”

From Trill Burgers to a dinner curated by Kelis, the food didn’t disappoint

The premise of Honeyland was to bring together the best in Black cuisine and spirits in a single event, and as Tabitha Brown indicated, it succeeded. The festival grounds featured a range of food stalls, including Houston’s wildly popular Trill Burgers, launched by rapper Bun B. While the lines for the burgers were long throughout the weekend, the emcee-turned-entrepreneur was on the ground for a live demo as well.

Trill Burgers, Honeyland Festival, Tabitha Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Kelis, Mary J. Blige, Tems, Coco jones, Lucky Daye, Black foodies, Black chefs, Black festivals, Black food culture, Houston, theGrio.com
Trill Burgers Photo: DeAnna Taylor)

“The key to a great burger is love,” Bun B said when asked about his secret “sauce” to making such popular burgers. “When people come to Trill Burgers, we not only want them to walk away with a great meal, but we also want them to really feel like they are getting a piece of Houston culture. The food is the initial point of contact with people, but there’s also so much cultural residual involved, and I take pride in all of it.”

In addition to the general food stalls featuring recipes from across the diaspora, attendees could opt for elevated sit-down experiences, including Saturday evening’s four-course dinner curated by Kelis. The singer, now also a trained chef and farmer, curated a meal in conjunction with the largest Black-owned winemakers, The McBride Sisters. Whipping up flavorful dishes like oxtails over cassava and her famous cornbread turned into a play on tres leches cake for the occasion, our bellies were certainly happy.

“I love great food, great wine and great music, but the highlight for me has been the moments we’ve had with Kelis. She is somebody we’ve admired for so long, so getting to work with and talk to her this weekend has been so amazing for us,” Robyn McBride, one-half of the McBride Sisters, shared with theGrio.

Honeyland Festival, Tabitha Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Kelis, Mary J. Blige, Tems, Coco jones, Lucky Daye, Black foodies, Black chefs, Black festivals, Black food culture, Houston, theGrio.com
(Left to right) Iconoclast Dinner Experience Creator Lezli Levene Harvell and Kelis attend a Farm to Feast Dinner Party during Honeyland Festival Day 1 on November 11, 2023 in Sugar Land, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Honeyland Festival)

Over the two days, Honeyland attendees chowed down on homemade gumbo from Gumbo Xpress, a Trill Burger, Nigerian jollof, lobster rolls, crab cake sandwiches and some of the most finger-licking wings around from Texas-based Sienna Wings. As for the sips, libations included a cranberry mule made with Highway Vodka, a honey Old-Fashioned made with Uncle Nearest Whiskey, Mary J.’s Sun Goddess Prosecco, André Hueston Mack’s O.P.P. red wine, and many, many spicy margaritas.

“It was important for me to bring out people who are doing things with excellence,” Fawn Weaver, owner of Uncle Nearest Whiskey and spirits curator for Honeyland Festival, told theGrio.

“These are people literally in the trenches building their companies and doing it while keeping control. I wanted to be able to shine a spotlight on that. I’ve been in the room this weekend with every major Black culinary professional and mixologist in this country and spirit brand owners. We’re literally in the same space right now, and that has never happened. We’ve never all been in the same place at once, and we’re all just over the moon for that.”


DeAnna Taylor, theGrio.com
DeAnna Taylor, theGrio.com

DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense attorney turned travel writer, author, and senior-level editor. The Charlotte, NC native has touched all seven continents, traveled to over 40 countries, and even lived and worked in South Korea. Her passion lies in educating others on how to see the world. IG: @brokeandabroadlife.

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