Heading On Down to the Audubon Zoo with Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns

Here in New Orleans music permeates pretty much everything and Audubon Zoo is no exception to that rule.

Immortalized in The Meters’ song They All Ask’d For You  – written by Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Leo Noncentelli, and Zigaboo Modeliste – Audubon Zoo is also famous for its annual philanthropic event the Whitney Zoo-To-Do, a black-tie fundraiser replete with New Orleans’ customary signature blend of great food, great cocktails, and great music.

This year is Zoo-To-Do’s 40th anniversary and as part of the celebrations will feature performances by Walter “Wolfman” Washington and the Roadmasters, Jessie’s Girls, Julio Y Cesar, and Meschiya Lake.

“I am pretty excited to be performing at the zoo,” said Lake. “I adore animals and it is for a good cause. I always enjoy that.”

From a circus performer with the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zideshow and the End of the World Circus to her current career as one of New Orleans’ best Jazz-singer-with-an-edge, Meschiya Lake is no stranger to the ups and down of showbusiness and, according to Lake, playing at Audubon Zoo definitely falls into the up category, not least because she is excited to bring her four-month-old daughter Saiorse (which means freedom in Gaelic) on her first visit to zoo.

Over the more than ten years that Lake has called New Orleans home, Lake has performed on the streets of the French Quarter, New Orleans music clubs, and even at Celtic Connections, Scotland’s biggest folk music festival held yearly in Glasgow. She was also took home the Big Easy Music Awards “Best Female Performer” of the year for 2010, 2011, and 2012.

In January 2018, she and her band are heading back across the pond to revisit Celtic Connections, something  that, she says, she is very much looking forward to.

“I loved Scotland,” said Lake. “I found Scottish people to be funny and down to earth. And they loved to hang out. Really looking forward to going back.”

“Sometimes when I sit down and think about it, it is pretty nuts,” said Lake. “Ten years ago, I was working all kinds of other jobs with bands on the side. I drove a forklift. I did migrant farm work. I worked in a lot of kitchens. In 2007, I started street performing and now I make my living with music and that is pretty cool, but, you know? But I still like to play on the streets. It is all part of the musical experience and as long as people are having a good time, that is what is important to me. It is always seat of the pants, as we say.”

Zoo-To-Do will take place on Friday, May 4, 2017 at Audubon Zoo, 6500 Magazine St, New Orleans, 70118.

More information about Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns is available at http://www.meschiyalake.com/

More information about the Audubon Nature Institute is available at http://audubonnatureinstitute.org/zoo

The Celtic Origins of Hallowe’en: Samhuinn in New Orleans

In a city as steeped in the supernatural as New Orleans, it is only natural that Hallowe’en is one of the Crescent City’s most loved celebrations.  Costuming, known as “guising” in Scotland, is part of most celebrations in New Orleans, as are street parties, performance art, and revelry.

Whether attending the annual Witches’ Ball at the Van Benthuysen – Elms Mansion, catching throws at the Krewe Of Boo parade, or getting down at Voodoo Fest, New Orleanians embrace the spirit of Hallowe’en with a customary gusto. But Hallowe’en is not all candy apples and parties. According to historians, its origins date all the way back in time to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhuinn.

For the ancient Celts, each year was measured in a circular, not linear, fashion.  As the great wheel of the year turned, it was celebrated by various equinoxes and solstices and anchored by four main festivals – Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhuinn.

The Celtic year began with Samhuinn, which was celebrated in the last days of October and marked the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of winter. As the days became colder and darker, the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead also grew thin, allowing ghosts and other otherworldly creatures to enter the world of the living.

While the ancient Celts believed these eldritch visitors were not necessarily unwelcome, as time went on, and the traditions changed, people began to use costumes and masks to confuse unwanted supernatural callers, giving rise to the modern tradition of Hallowe’en costumes.

Over the centuries, Samhuinn and other ancient festivals and traditions were absorbed by new religions. With the rise of Christianity across Europe, many traditional Celtic celebrations, such as Samhuinn, were repressed, reinvented, and absorbed into the new Christian traditions and feast days. Yet, even now, many Hallowe’en traditions still reflect their ancient origins.

When Pope Gregory III (731 – 471) expanded the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day (established by Pope Boniface IV in 609 A.D.) to include all saints, he also moved the day of observance to November 1. In 1000 AD., the church declared November 2, All Souls Day, and with November 1 now commonly called All Saints’ Day or All-hallows, the night before – October 31, the traditional night of Samhuinn – became known first as All-hallows Eve, and, eventually, as Hallowe’en.

In Mexico, families visit graveyards on November 1 and 2 (Día de los Inocentes and Día de los Muertos), while according to tradition in New Orleans, families visit the city’s magnificent graveyards on All Saints Day to beautify the graves of lost loved ones. But on Hallowe’en night in Edinburgh, Scotland, the age-old traditions of both Samhuinn and Beltane have been brought back to pagan life by The Beltane Fire Society.

The Society celebrates all four cornerstones of the Celtic year –  its Beltane Festival takes place on Calton Hill on April 30, while Samhuinn is celebrated on the cobble streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town on Hallowe’en night.

“Edinburgh’s Old Town has historic significance as a site of ancient markets and All Hallows fairs, street theatre and performances – especially of the Galoshan plays from which our performance takes its structure,” Tanya Simpson, the online communications coordinator for the Beltane Fire Society told WWOZ.

The Samhuinn performance embodies the overthrowing of Summer by Winter, explained Simpson, portraying a stand-off between the Summer and Winter Kings overseen by the Cailleach, a Celtic representation of the Goddess, or Divine Hag.

“The transformation from Summer to Winter is supported by the energies and interactions of the Summer and Winter courts – through performance, music and dance,” said Simpson “The narrative focuses on this conflict and its resolution, but also focuses on the transition that many aspects of life take during the changing of the seasons.”

Something to think about when enjoying New Orleans’ upcoming Hallowe’en events!

More information about the Beltane Fire Society in available at beltane.org

In the spirit of Samhuinn, a supernatural Music in the Glen will feature Celtic songs of ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night. Don’t look behind you!

Music In The Glen, live from New Orleans  every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11.30 a.m., on WWOZ 90.7 FM at  https://www.wwoz.org/listen/player/

 

 

 

 

Tara O’Grady’s New Orleans Love Song

During March 2014, Irish Jazz singer Tara O’Grady found herself, as one does, on an Irish Channel parade float, throwing cabbages and potatoes to crowds on Magazine Street while singing Danny Boy.

“I was completely unaware that there was an Irish community in New Orleans,” remembered O’Grady. “Watching all those New Orleanians catching Irish stew vegetables was my introduction to a tradition that I was completely oblivious to – but now am completely enthralled by.”

O’Grady was so enthralled that, on the way back home to New York City, she began writing songs for her fourth album – aptly named Irish Bayou – which mixes American jazz and blues with Celtic story-telling, and a playful sense of shared history..

In 2015,  O’Grady performed in New Orleans as part of the 2014 International Famine Commemoration.

“That was my father’s first visited to New Orleans,” said O’Grady. “He is first generation Irish, and the first live street performer he encountered in New Orleans was a fiddle-player performing traditional Irish tunes. So, in New Orleans, we found a home away from home.”

Born just a few blocks away from Louis Armstrong’s house in New York City, O’Grady grew up surrounded by Irish traditional music, but it was jazz and swing – including the music of New Orleans’ greats like Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima – that stole her heart.

“Louis Armstrong wrote about New Orleans’ Irish Channel in his memoirs,” said O’Grady. “It was a rough and tough town back in the day. During his childhood, he wrote he never entered the Irish Channel because the Irish who lived there were tough – which is saying something because Louis grew up in an area nicknamed “The Battlefield.”

“So, the Irish are part of the gumbo that makes New Orleans a unique American city,” said O’Grady. “In New Orleans, just like in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, Irish flags can be seen on front porches throughout the city.”

According to O’Grady, the intertwined history of New Orleans’ myriad musical traditions, and the common threads that tie its diverse cultures together, were the inspiration for Irish Bayou, her latest album.

“The history of the Irish in New Orleans, from the thousands who died digging the New Basin Canal (Dem Dry Bones) to New Orleanians like Kate Chopin, author of The Awakening (A Rude Awakening –Kate O’Flaherty’s Blues) all inspired ideas for songs about the Irish in New Orleans,” explained O’Grady.

“New Orleans has a multi-cultural atmosphere, so writing Irish Bayou came naturally, with no agenda,” said O’Grady. “And it draws from a number of multitude of genres – jazz, folk, blues, zydeco and rockabilly – all woven together by the theme of the Irish in New Orleans.”

“But,” she laughed. “It was a WWOZ Jazz and Heritage Station DJ after hearing one of my tracks, who told his audience to ‘get yourself a heaping helping of Tara O’Grady.’ And that became a song about muffalatas, beignets, and chocolate pecan pies – A Heaping Helping of My Love!”

More information on Tara O’Grady is available at Tara O’Grady

Gerry O’Beirne’s New Direction

As a singer, songwriter, world-class guitarist, and producer, the Co. Clare native Gerry O’Beirne blends elements of traditional Irish music with contemporary original songs.

A well-known solo artist, O’Beirne has toured with such well-known folk luminaries as Patrick Street, Andy M. Stewart, Kevin Burke, the Waterboys, Midnight Well, and the Sharon Shannon Band.

However, no matter where he goes, said O’Beirne, he always looks forward to “working his way down south towards Louisiana.”

“If you could organize your life the way that you would like it, I would stay in New Orleans for a month,” laughed O’Beirne. “But it doesn’t often work out that way.”

During his long career, O’Beirne’s music has always incorporated dimensions of literature and art. 1874, a track from his 2010 collaboration with fiddler Rosie Shipley, Yesterday I Saw the Earth Beautiful, was inspired by the very first impressionist exhibition that took place in Paris in 1874.

His 2008 album, The Bog Bodies and Other Stories: Music for Guitar, features two haunting pieces inspired by the Irish “bog bodies,” the centuries-dead cadavers found naturally mummified in the peat bogs of Ireland and Eastern Europe.

“Bog bodies are people fashioned by the bog, and processes in the bog, so that they now almost look like works of art themselves,” said O’Beirne. “In my music, I tried to give a heightened sense of them as people, but also, in a funny way, that Mother Earth sort of took them back, and made them into works of art.”

In December 2015, O’Beirne performed  Trèo, a popular bar and art gallery in New Orleans.

In Irish Gaelic, trèo means direction. According to Trèo’s owners Pauline and Stephen Patterson, that meaning is apt when describing both the bar, and the bar’s location on Tulane Avenue. Both, said Pauline Patterson, are “following new directions.”

“Trèo is predominately a bar,” explained Pauline Patterson. “But its direction is the arts, whether that art is food, cocktails, the art of conversation, or music. Our December art events include artists who live outside the States, but have connections with New Orleans. Because Gerry O’Beirne’s music takes Irish music in a new direction, he really suits the theme of the December show.”

O’Beirne is currently working on a new album that highlights life in Dingle, Co. Kerry, by telling tales of famine towers, canny Irish horse trainers, and romantically eccentric locals.

“People often say you can’t speak about music,” said O’Beirne. “But I always think that one art form responds very easily to another. People are extraordinary creations. Cities can be extraordinary creations. And whether you live in New Orleans, New York, or Dingle, your obligations for living there are cultural ones.

Information about upcoming events is available at Trèo

Information about Gerry O’Beirne is available at Gerry O’Beirne

Shaking the Shack with the Legendary Shack Shakers

 

The Legendary Shaker Shakers plan to shake up New Orleans as they take their latest American gothic songs out on the dark roads from Kentucky to California, and back again.

Described by Rolling Stone Magazine as “akin to witnessing a gospel revival or even a snake-handling ceremony,” the Shack Shakers are a musically fearless Deep South mix of punk, rockabilly, country, bluegrass, and gospel.
Bandleader J.D. Wilkes hails from Kentucky, but it was Louisiana’s music, in its many forms, that set him on the road to fronting one of the most original Southern Gothic bands to ever slither and stride out of the bayou, and onto the world stage.

“I lived in Louisiana for six years when I was a kid,” said Wilkes. “Cajun and Zydeco music was what got me into this in the first place. As a little kid, they got into my system. It was uncontrollable, and it all goes back to Louisiana.”

As a child, Wilkes remembers being fascinated by the music of an elderly musician who would play for tourists on the steps of St. Francisville’s old plantations.

“Scott Dunbar had to have been born in the 1800s,” said Wilkes. “So he was this throwback – this real primitive old-school bluesman – kind of on display in this weird exploitative kind of way. But I was glad that I got to see that – because there was power there.”

This musical fascination with the past, and how it relates to the present, fuels Wilkes’ songwriting and permeates the band’s music. While the Legendary Shack Shakers are often described as Southern Gothic, the actual gothic aspects are found in the lyrics of the songs as well as the music, said Wilkes, born as they both are out of the harsh realities of South’s agrarian past, and the shadowy world of Americana folklore.

“The gothic aesthetic is finding beauty in the grotesque,” said Wilkes. “So, lyrically, we are Southern Gothic because I do find beauty in the harsher realities, in the grittier aspect of the South. We are a melting pot, so there is this love-hate, push-pull relationship between the races and the classes. But something fascinating comes out of that. There is beauty that comes out of those grotesque dynamics. There is great art, great music, and great cuisine – more so here than anywhere else in the country – because we are in the thick of it.”

If the Shack Shakers’ latest album, The Southern Surreal, is rooted in old and new Americana folklore, the band’s live performance channels transcendental states more commonly found in religious revivals, pagan ceremonies, and raves.

It is this state of transcendence that fascinates Wilkes, in both a musical and a philosophical sense.

“What you hear in the old musicians from east Kentucky and north Mississippi, Deep South Mississippi, and the Louisiana area – the bluesmen – was trance-inducing,” said Wilkes. “The music was primal – it wasn’t sanitized like it is today. It would transport them and lift them up out of their poverty to a place where they could just exist on a higher plane. We try to conjure that kind of mysticism.”

More information is available at The Legendary Shack Shakers