The weekend of December 19-21, 2014 in New Orleans, I was fortunate enough to play solo shows at the Louisiana Music Factory, the Everette Maddox Memorial Poetry and Prose Series at the Maple Leaf Bar and do a guest spot on Kathleen Lee’s Swing Session show on WWOZ FM. Because of my schedule, I realized that I could just go out and enjoy music Friday and Saturday nights. I did a little homework before my trip and realized that it would be possible to see some musical friends and a couple of other fine acts while I was in town. Here’s who entertained me and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it all.
In order of appearance:
Friday: Lena Prima at The Carousel Bar and Lounge, Hotel Monteleone
The daughter of New Orleans and swing icon Louis Prima, Lena Prima delivers an
excellent show featuring her father’s music and her own songs, as well. Blessed with a fine voice and magnetic stage presence, Lena leads a great band that includes a horn section that sparkled with renditions of Jump, Jive and Wail and Sing, Sing, Sing, both written by the late Louis. The band had the whole Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone dancing. Since I had not heard her perform I downloaded one of her albums and one of Louis’ to inform and keep me company on the road to New Orleans. I also grabbed her Christmas CD and bought her Starting Something album the next day at Louisiana Music Factory. Lena keeps her father’s swing tradition alive and offers her own original music at the same time.
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. Benny Grunch and the Bunch, Louisiana Music Factory
I first learned of Benny Grunch and the Bunch in the mid-nineties when I picked up one of their albums in the JazzFest music tent. Although I had never heard of them, the title The 12 Yats of Christmas told me I would enjoy their music and it didn’t disappoint. The title song is a Crescent City send-up of the Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with local references and a variety of New Orleans dialects, of which there are many. Think: Santa moves to the Lower 9th Ward. It’s a hoot.
Celebrating the anniversary of the original release, Benny and the Bunch now have a two-CD set that includes the original and Christmas versions of another piece of poetry, Ain’t Dere No More. If you remember Schwegmann’s, Holmes’, Ponchartrain Beach and other Big Easy retail and entertainment icons, you’ll enjoy this. The group’s live show was just as entertaining as the recorded music and the entire audience at Louisiana Music Factory seemed to be made up of locals who knew all “da woids.” Yeah, you’ right!
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Matt Hoggatt at Margaritaville, New Orleans
Matt Hoggatt and I met in 2011 at a songwriting festival on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He grew up in Gautier, Mississippi, just across the river from Pascagoula, where I spent (or misspent) much of my youth. Matt has become a friend and he is a fine songwriter and a
clever performer who has recorded several CDs. A song he wrote, Dear Jimmy Buffett, landed him on stage with the King of Somewhere Hot and an album released on Buffett’s Mailboat Records. His new CD, produced by Keith Sykes, is an entertaining disc full of incredible wordplay called Workaholic in Recovery. It was five o’clock somewhere, specifically at the Storyville Tavern at Margaritaville, New Orleans, where I joined others in enjoying not only Matt’s musical delivery but his clever (and sometimes bawdy) comments between songs.
Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Kitt Lough at The Bombay Club
The Bombay Club is within walking distance of Margaritaville but a world away in atmosphere. Nestled in the Prince Conti Hotel, its elegant and plush furnishings, martinis and mixed drinks are the perfect complement to Kitt Lough’s beautiful delivery of New Orleans and American songbook classics. Kitt and I met during her time in Nashville around a decade ago at the late, great Tower Records, where her CDs and mine were available. She played F. Scott’s and other Nashville jazz venues before moving to the Gulf Coast, first to Pensacola and now, New Orleans. Kitt is at home in the Crescent City and does New Orleans proud with the way she sings. When I saw her in December, performing with her was New Orleans icon Jimmy Vidocovich playing drums, an extra treat.
Saturday, 10:00 p.m. Double Dee at Margaritaville, New Orleans
Not only did I hear some great music in New Orleans that Saturday night, I got some exercise walking up and down the French Quarter to listen to it. My friends Darwin and Dana Nelson, known as Double Dee, were playing the 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. show at
Margaritaville’ s Storyville Tavern. We met in 2011 at the festival on the Mississippi Coast and we have shared the stage in Nashville. Prolific songwriters and engaging entertainers, Darwin and Dana have stayed true to their Gulf Coast roots with songs like Call It Gumbo and my favorite, Jumpin’ Like Mullet. I joined them on stage at Margaritaville for an impromptu version of Folsom Prison Blues and it was a joy to see them again.
Sunday, 3:00 p.m. The Everette Maddox Memorial Poetry and Prose series, Maple Leaf Bar
Everette Maddox was a one-of-a-kind man known for his poetry, his wit, his general persona and his drinking. He excelled in every one of those areas and those of us who were privileged to have known him were constantly entertained and fortunate in his presence. What a thrill for me when, in the late 1980s through some friends we both had in Mobile, Alabama, he asked me to come to New Orleans to sing my original songs in the weekly poetry reading series he had started at the Maple Leaf Bar.
Everette died in 1989 and Nancy Harris, a fine poet and person, has kept the series going and has continued to include me throughout the years. It was a treat to perform at the event and to hear poets, including Nancy, present their work. Nancy’s most recent collection, Beauty Eating Beauty, follows The Ape Woman’s Story and Mirror Wars, the other collected volumes of her work.
After I performed, Nancy held an open mic
where others were able to read or sing their original words and music. I enjoyed hearing the original music of New Orleans’ Mike True. It was also a pleasant surprise to hear for the first time The Loving Apparitions, a duo made up of my friends Victoria and Colt Burkett.
Sunday, 7:00 p.m. Kathleen Lee’s Swing Session, WWOZ FM
The Maple Leaf Bar is down on Oak Street (that always seemed ironic to me). It’s off Carrolton Avenue and a fair distance from the French Quarter. After the poetry event, I headed back to the Quarter to WWOZ to join the ever gracious Kathleen Lee (a fine singer and recording artist) on the air. Kathleen’s Swing Session features an ever-expanding array of classic and contemporary Big Band and Swing music.
She has been kind enough to play my New Orleans-flavored Jingle Bells (Christmas in New Orleans) for many holiday seasons. I usually listen to her Christmas show online from Nashville and it was a treat to be a part of it in the studio with her and “St. Nick.” Kathleen put me in good company playing my music along with classics from Burl Ives, Gene Autry and Louis Armstrong on the 2014 version of her Christmas Swing Session.
Where to look
I highly recommend looking at online music calendars before any trip to New Orleans. It’s like looking at the JazzFest schedule before you go – you can plan to catch the acts you really want to see. I recommend the WWOZ Concert Calendar, OffBEAT Magazine’s Events page, and the Louisiana Music Factory’s Concerts and News page and the Maple Leaf Bar’s Calendar. The WWOZ and OffBEAT calendars cover events all over the city while the Maple Leaf and Louisiana Music Factory pages show what’s coming up at those venues. Of particular interest about the latter, the Louisiana Music Factory is a great record store with music every Saturday afternoon. It’s free and you’ll hear some great acts in a non-bar atmosphere.
Look for the acts I mentioned and there is no question you will be entertained. But if they’re not playing while you’re there, you know you’ll hear some great music in New Orleans.