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French Quarter Festival has good news for musicians

10th April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Musicians too rarely get good news. It’s often the same old, same old. Income levels remain stagnant, clubs that once offered regular gigs are shuttered by the city and live music permits for pros­pective new venue owners have become close to impossible to obtain.

The French Quarter Festival, held from Thursday, April 12, to Sunday, April 15, has addressed some long-standing artists’ issues and made some changes that have brought smiles to the faces of many of its participants. When musicians are happy, fans are happy.

In the past, non-union musicians and those unwilling or unable to perform for the salary offered, were forced to seek out their own sponsors in order to play at the festival. This year, the French Quarter Festival took over that chore to, what seems to be, great success.

The most obvious, very exciting result is that guitarist/vocalist Deacon John performs at the FQF for the first time in the event’s 29-year existence.

“I wouldn’t do it for the ‘green sheet’ money,” says the bandleader who is not only a member of the Musicians Union but its president. “It wasn’t enough for the production of my show and to pay the musicians and the road crew. Now they got me a sponsor.”

What musicians refer to as green sheet money comes from the Musicians Performance Trust Fund that was set up to create jobs for under-utilized musicians to play at schools, churches and for non-profit organizations. It was financed from “mechanical” sales of recordings. Those assets have dried-up for the most part in the digital age and thus the fund could no longer financially help support the FQF as much as it had in the past. The festival organizers were forced to re-think the situation. The change could go a long way in bringing a new crop of some of New Orleans’ finest artists to the event.

The Berger Company, Inc. sponsors the always jumpin’, Deacon John & the Ivories performance at the Pavilion Stage on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. “Darryl Berger has been a huge fan of mine throughout the years,” Deacon happily says. “He’s also a drummer with the group the Hot Rod Lincolns.” Incidentally, Deacon and his band will perform earlier in the week on Thursday, April 12, at the Covington Trail­head and on April 23, the New Orleans guitar and singing icon will travel to Baton Rouge to accept a Slim Harpo Blues Pioneer Award.

Another big plus for the musicians at this year’s FQF is that, again, for the first time, they will be provided with parking. It’s a one spot per band deal but that’s a start. Anyone who witnessed the late great, elder statesman Danny Barker lugging his gear up Bourbon Street for a gig at the festival knows that easy access to the festival site must be provided.

On to the music… The opening Thursday of the French Quarter Festival stands as a particularly strong day for jazz – both traditional and modern – and brass band aficionados. It kicks off with the Preservation Hall All Stars, a group that is celebrating the St. Peter Street’s traditional jazz landmark’s 50th anniversary. Saxo­phonist John Ellis, who spent some years in New Orleans honing his chops, represents one of the few delves into modern jazz at the fest. He’ll keep it funky with a tuba (usually the talented Matt Perrine) and his humorous attitude on the Pavilion Stage at 12:30 on opening day. Nearby, on the riverfront, sousaphonist Kirk Joseph, an original and present member of the mighty Dirty Dozen Brass Band, carries on the tradition of mixing seasoned and young musicians together with a goal of handing down the tradition. “That’s how we learned,” Joseph says. His brother, trombonist Charles Joseph, will be on the date with the next generation of musicians including the talented saxophonist Calvin Johnson, a member of another one of New Orleans’ many musical families.

It’s pretty much impossible to careen from the activities at the Louisiana State Museum on Esplanade Avenue to stages upriver near at and around Woldenberg Park. If one really wants to see the excellent percussionist Bill Sum­mers, of the Headhunters fame, with his rhythmic group, Jazalsa, on Friday, April 13, the best bet is to land downriver and hang and after the set move on up to catch the relatively new guys on the block, the brassy, Chuck Brown go-go inspired funk of the Brass-a-Holics.

A day-by-day account of the festival is too vast to go into. “Don’t try to see everything is probably the best recommendation.” The Legacy Stage, once known as the Brass Band Stage, is the place to be for gettin’ down as well as chillin’ out on the lawn. Sat­urday’s line-up is a sure bet with the New Orleans Night­crawlers, the TBC and the Hot 8 brass bands burning from 4:30 to 7:30. If it’s time to mellow out, Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse provides some fine modern jazz on Saturday at 8 p.m. The dynamic duo of bassist/vocalist George French teamed with his longtime stage mate, vocalist Geramine Bazzle greet their very special guest, saxophonist James Rivers.

The cherry on top of the multi-layered musical sundae that is the French Quarter Festival is hearing Troy “Trombone Shorty” And­rews closing it out on the bank of the Mississippi River on Sunday from 5:45 to 7 p.m.

Now that’s New Orleans.

This article was originally published in the April 9, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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