Hi. It’s me. A Houstonian foodie here to give you the real about the inaugural Honeyland that went down in Sugar Land, Texas this weekend. From the beginning, this event caught the attention of foodies like myself. Promoters initially billed Honeyland as a food and wine festival with music acts, all of which would highlight Black culture. They even pulled out Marcus Samuelsson for the initial promo calling him the curator of the food, which led me to believe this would be a legit event. As more about the event came out, it was clear to me that this event was not going to be what I expected. So here are 10 Honeyland Fest Takeaways!
But before I get into that, let me add this. I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years, have attended and recapped more food and music festivals than I can count. While also hosting my own sampling events in the Houston area. My expectations for Honeyland were based on my experiences with events like the Family Reunion, Charleston Wine & Food, Essence Festival, Southern Smoke Festival and even Afrochella all the way in Ghana.
Are you a FOOD festival or a music festival?
As I shared above, the food caught my attention. The music was a nice second as I have seen many of these artists before at music festivals like Essence. Based on the price point and the heavy promotion on food, I purchased tickets assuming that it would be like every other food festival I’ve attended. I thought my ticket would you give me access to food samples from some top chefs as has been the case at many food events like the Family Reunion and Southern Smoke. At these events, the samples generally leave you feeling full and are a great culinary showing.
An early iteration of the festival map included “food vendor” tents and raised a red flag for me. Food vendors? Why would we be paying for food at a “food festival?” So I started doing some deeper dives looking for information that was not available at the time of purchase. The “food” aspect of this festival for general admission attendees would simply involve demonstrations on an Eats and Sips stage. This area reminded me of the Essence Eats stage, made famous in that pivotal scene in Girls Trip. Chefs would do an interview and a demonstration but only a small portion of guests would get samples, like 20 people or so. While there, this was ultimately the case, and the area for this stage was much smaller than expected and filled up rather quickly during peak hours.
Here is the Houston Chronicle article announcing the festival back in June. Written by food editor Greg Morago, the article says the festival would have an emphasis on food and drink. A similar article from Houston Eater, a local food website with a similiar description of the event. An interview with Samuelsson on Angela Yee’s radio show a week before the festival, labeling the event as a “food and wine festival.” I could go on and on, but I wanted to add these examples for those who did not believe this was marketed as a food festival.
So there are Food Vendors? Well Kinda
Okay so once I heard food vendors, I prepared myself for that. I searched online for more information about the vendors. There was never a list. In fact, we didn’t know what vendors were there until we walked on the grounds on Saturday. What I am saying is not shade to these vendors AT ALL, but what was offered vendor-wise also did not meet the expectations. When you tell me that Marcus Samuelsson is involved and highlight other James Beard level chefs, I expect the food offerings to be at that level. So there wouldn’t be samples, but I could BUY food from great chefs? I could rock with that. Not the case. Most ticket holders would only get access to things like burgers and wings. Add to that, there were not nearly enough of these food vendors so the lines were incredibly long everywhere.
VIP and Platinum guests had access to more samples however, there were not a lot. There were also some add on dinners/lunches that started at about $150+ including one with Kelis that appeared on the website weeks before the event. My understanding is this was an additional cost for all attendees even those with VIP and above tickets. It is not uncommon to have these types of add-ons, for example the bulk of Charleston Wine & Food are small intimate dinners. However, how you communicate these events and the pricing must be done carefully.
I made a decision to eat before heading there which was the best decision ever. I, a food blogger, went to a FOOD festival and ate nothing. And this leads me to my final sentiment. A food festival with no food. How dreadful.
VIP Not Feeling Very VIP
Honeyland had four tiers of tickets. GA, GA+, VIP and Platinum. Generally, I am able to clearly see the difference, i.e. early entrance or access to a nice tented space. Honeyland, not so much. I purchased GA+ because it offered the ability to cut lines and a dedicated lounge space, many of the things I looked for in VIP tickets. The cut the line “express pass” promise really didn’t happen. It was supposed to work at bar and food lines, but that was non-existent. The lounge area for GA+ was creatively described as “shady” which we read as covered. In reality, there were a few picnic umbrellas on picnic tables scattered about. I’ve never seen so many unhappy people in a “exclusive” area in my life.
And my friends with VIP passes reported a similar experience in their area. The VIP area was also not covered. I can see with the original game plan, but once the weather showed rain no one thought to invest in more tents for the folks who paid upwards of $500 for the event? Platinum guests were in a covered area and seemed to have a much better experience. The lines for food and drink inside of the GA+ and VIP areas were about the same as GA. VIP had some demos though, but many of friends felt underwhelmed.
Not only have I attended tons of events, but I’ve also hosted a few too. One of the easiest things to find vendors for? Drink samples. TABC allows small samples at events like this. People love it and it’s an easy way to add value for a ticket including GA. There were no drink samples here including in the wine area and the Uncle Nearest bar. They were all paid bars with heavily marked up wine. This was a huge miss by Honeyland in terms of adding value and helping guests explore Black wine and spirit brands.
By about 5:30pm-6pm the sun was gone and the fairgrounds were completely dark. I looked around looking for lighting to help navigate the space and saw very few lights. Now, I imagine they had to be mindful of the artists on the stage when it came to lights out in the field, however this raised safety concerns for me. To be clear, I saw no one lurking or acting creepy! But the opportunities were there given how dark the event was. I started telling friends they should not go to the event alone mainly because it was not a well lit space.
The schedule for an event featuring thousands of people, was released days before the event. Yes DAYS. In that there was a little blurb about Studio HL noting that you could meet your favorite chefs and food writers at this area. A friend text me and let me know that they were having a book signing for Toni Tipton Martin and giving out her new book for free. We scurried over there to pick up the book! Now, the security guard over there was being rude and tried to block my blessing! Thankfully, we were able to secure the last of the books making for a great souvenir. A lot of people did not know about this area, so I wish Honeyland had highlighted it more.
Houston Parking Culture
Houston is the home of the “urban sprawl” and as such, I think that allows us to have better parking all throughout the city. Recently though many Houston restaurants and bars have been charging for parking. Houstonians see this as a money grab and I get complaints about it fairly often. I’ve come to expect to pay for parking when I am in areas like downtown, or EADO, but out in the burbs? Where you can still see undeveloped land and cows roam freely? Yeah, paying for parking just does not make sense out there.
Months after purchasing tickets we were told that parking was not included and we would have to pay for parking. There was a bit of trickery there as the tickets mentioned a parking shuttle as included, so many thought that included parking. The starting price was $35/day and you would need to shuttle to the festival grounds. For comparison? Smart Financial Center, Sugar Land’s event/concert center generally charges $15 to park.
There was also a VIP parking option which allowed you parking on the grounds and no shuttling. I lucked up on a VIP parking pass, only to find out the day of, the VIP parking was closed due to mud. *whispers * I saw no mud. They were promised a partial refund for a parking pass that cost more than $100. We parked at the UH-Sugar Land campus with no issues, but quickly noticed that no one was checking parking passes. So there were plenty of people who parked without paying. Honestly, if charging for parking is necessary, just add that to my ticket price and don’t tell me! I will also note that my shuttle experience went well and I hopped right on the shuttle coming and going.
Location Location Location
While the promoters marketed this as a Houston Food Festival, it was actually located in our Houston suburb, Sugar Land. To play on the rapper Omeretta’s words, that ish is not Houston! I was baffled by this choice, partly because this is not a suburb that screams “Black” to me (my opinion!). There is also some horrific history there with the sugar plantations that give the city its name. However, someone noted to me that music festivals are more difficult to pull off in Harris County/Houston proper because of the Astroworld tragedy. As they should be! And despite my pause, the park used for the event was a great space. Parking options could have been better of course, but the land itself was good.
Convening with Friends
One of the best things about a Black event like this in your hometown is that so many of your friends will be in attendance. We had such a hard time getting around because every few seconds someone had to stop and talk to a friend that we bumped into. I got to meet some blogger friends in person who I have only chatted with online. Other friends who came to town that I only get to connect with at events like this. That will always be a plus for me.
Here is where Honeyland shines and why I think this event should be branded as it really is. A music festival! The acts started on time, great stage setup and the big screens could be seen throughout the festival grounds. The lineup included some of the biggest stars in Black music out right now. To me, THIS was a legit showing of Black culture. Every guest of every ticket level got to truly experience the music. For those who are walking away singing Honeyland’s praises, you will notice they focus on the music which to me is great. I’m glad they got what they paid for.
Some frequent musical festival attendees tell me that one stage makes it less appealing as a musical festival though. Many other festivals have acts on three stages for a similar price point. Many of us were sad to see Jazmine Sullivan pull out of the event, but understood that she is grieving the loss of her mother. Sadly, the festival did not communicate this well to attendees and Jazmine had to make several posts on her own page to say she would not be attending.
This is all based on my notes from attending Saturday. Once I saw the rain in forecast for Sunday, I decided to stay home and if this festival returns, I will not be returning. I give grace for first efforts, but when you have big corporations pushing the event AND I walk away feeling like I got scammed? My amount of grace is very limited. I broke down on my Instagram about the value I expect at this price point by comparing to a few other events. Feel free to check out that breakdown on my Honeyland highlight.
The part that also makes me so frustrated is that this was an opportunity to really highlight the amazing Black food scene in Houston and I think it missed the mark. Yes, many of our local chefs got to be on the main stage or hosted the private dinners and lunches, but if the bulk of the attendees do not have access to food or events, what impression does that leave?