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Nonprofits leverage Jazz Fest to earn money to sustain missions

24th April 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

It may not seem wise to try setting up an event during Jazz Fest season, whether it’s a competing concert, crawfish boil or simple garage sale. But a few groups in New Orleans manage to leverage the momentum and attendance of Jazz Fest to grow their own audiences and help raise funds for their causes.

“It’s an interesting scenario because you have all these people in town, but, on the other hand, there is so much competition at night,” says Bill Taylor who handles public relations for Troy Andrews’ Trombone Shorty Foundation, and its accompanying Jazz Fest season fundraiser, Shorty Fest.

“A lot of people who are in town for Jazz Fest want to see Troy specifically, so we’re lucky in that way. We have a fan base that will come see him no matter what other Jazz Fest superjam is going on at night. We decided it would be the perfect vehicle for our annual fundraiser,” Taylor said.

That’s good news for students of the TSF’s Fredman Music Business Institute as well as the Trombone Short Academy, Andrews’ two main charitable programs, which teach young people music business and music performance respectively.

The Fredman Music Business Institute is led by two-time Grammy Award-winning producer Chris Finney, a New Orleans native and sound engineer, while the Trombone Shorty Academy carries on the tradition of the Fairview Baptist Church music program (founded by legendary New Orleans musician Danny Barker) teaching New Orleans musical traditions from brass-band, to Mardi Gras Indian funk, to Hip-Hop, to Shorty’s own hybrid genre “SupaFunkRock.”

“All proceeds from Shorty Fest go directly to educational programming,” promises Taylor, who also stresses that the event is meant to help young bands get noticed.

Rather than a roster of the regular Jazz Fest stalwarts who get all the best gigs during this time, Shorty Fest, which takes place on May 4 at 8 p.m. at the House of Blues, is always comprised of newbies and up-and-comers. This year that means students of The Trombone Shorty Academy, along with local groups the Seratones, New Breed Brass Band, The Main Squeeze, Sexual Thunder, Mainline, Voices of a Nation, and the Peterson Brothers.

Tipitina’s Foundation
For coming on 16 years now, Tipitina’s nightclub and its accompanying foundation have hosted the event Instruments A Comin’, an outdoor festival celebrating brass band culture while also raising money to purchase instruments for New Orleans’ public schools and after school band programs.

Instruments a Comin takes place on a Monday (May 1) so as not to compete directly with Jazz Fest, but it has become a beloved part of the festival week. The Foundation has contributed millions of dollars worth of musical instruments to over 100 music programs throughout the state of Louisiana. The Instruments A Comin’ cultural fair will feature an all day and night benefit concert as well as an auction.

This year’s entertainment on the neutral ground outside of Tipitina’s includes the usual set from Tip’s head of music education, Donald Harrison, Jr. and his students The Tips Interns, plus St. Augustine and Edna Karr high school bands. This year’s infamous Battle of the Marching Bands will feature Lake Area High School vs. Sci Academy. Later, an indoor concert line-up will feature Galactic, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Cha Wa, Rory Danger & The Danger Dangers, New Orleans Suspects (feat. Fred Tackett of Little Feat), Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes, Nth Power and Honey Island Swamp Band.

Touro Synagogue’s Jazz Fest Shabbat
In a similar vein is Touro Synagogue’s 26th annual Jazz Fest Shabbat, coming up on Friday, April 28.

“In a lot of ways, Touro Synagogue and Jazz Fest Shabbat are synonymous with one another,” Cantor David Mintz said in a 2016 article published by The Advocate. “It’s an incredible Shabbat service that brings in elements of New Orleans tradition and Jewish tradition into this larger-than-life.”

The event is an interesting mix of prayer service and concert, this year featuring music by Sunpie Barnes and the Louisiana Sunspots, Panorama Jazz Band, and the Touro Synagogue Choir led by music director Terry D. Maddox and Cantor David Mintz. The event consistently packs the 900-seat sanctuary.

Just prior to the event, Touro Synagogue will ride the Jazz Fest momentum for their own fundraising dinner, with tickets costing between $150 and $1,000. Sunpie will give a more intimate private performance for donors, followed by a dinner. Donors will also be seated in a special VIP area during the Shabbat concert that follows.

Threadhead Cultural Foundation
“We decided we needed to do more than just get together and drink beer, that we needed to help these musicians that we love so much,” says Heather McCameo, president of the Threadhead Cultural Foundation. “This past year we gave away $37,000 in grants to 16 different New Orleans musicians and organizations, including schools impacted by the floods in central Louisiana, plus Dancing Grounds, Friends of the Cabildo, New Orleans Musicians Assistance Fund and others.”

The Threadheads are not affiliated with Jazz Fest but the group was born from the official Jazz Fest message boards. “It works for us because of our history and how our group started,” said McCameo.

“We all literally met on the Jazz Fest chat board talking about the festival. Then during the actual Jazz Fest week, everyone from around the country wanted to meet and hang out together. These people from out of town, Jazz Fest is the only time they are here. It’s an annual trip for them,” McCameo said.

Post Katrina, the group grew into an official cultural non-profit, and their little backyard party grew into a proper fundraiser, with all funds going to TCF.

The Threadheads raise a good deal of this money at their annual Jazz Fest party, which is now in its thirteenth year. This year’s party (Tuesday, May 2 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Old Ironworks) will feature The Asylum Chorus, Erica Falls, Volker’s Do Rad Choppers, Feufollet featuring Aurora Nealeand, Naughty Professor, The Subdudes.

Coincidentally, Jazz Fest time is also the season for GiveNOLA Day, a 24-hour, online giving event organized by the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF), one of the oldest and largest philanthropic organizations in the region.

On May 2, from 12:00:01 a.m. to 11:59:59 p.m., GNOF will encourage and collect online donations for 717 local non-profits ranging from arts, culture and education organizations such as the Contemporary Arts Center, Junebug Productions, New Orleans Film Society and Press Club of New Orleans to human rights, housing, public safety and youth development organizations such as the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, Pro Bono Project, and 100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans.

On the same day, GiveNOLA will host a Jazz Fest-style concert featuring ReBirth Brass Band, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, and the legendary Queen of Soul, Irma Thomas, starting at 4:30 p.m. on Lee Circle at the Center for Philanthropy (919 St. Charles Ave.). The event is free and open to the public, but a portion of the proceeds from food and beverage sales at the concert will also go to benefit the Lagniappe Fund, which is distributed proportionally among all the nonprofits participating in GiveNOLA Day. Last year, the event raised $4 million from more than 28,000 donations across the nation, according to GNOF’s website.

This article originally published in the April 24, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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