Greensky Bluegrass In New Orleans Over JazzFest

One of the most wonderful things about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival  is the depth and breadth of musical talent that it brings to the Crescent City over two glorious weeks of music, food, and fun – and not just out at the Fairgrounds.

This Jazz Fest season, acoustic Bluegrass rock-and-rollers Greensky Bluegrass will bring their uniquely progressive sound to New Orleans on Saturday, May 6, 2017 at the House of Blues.

Since their greenstick days performing at open mikes in their home town of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Greensky Bluegrass has come a long way both in terms of road miles and sound.  One of the hardest working bands in Bluegrass, they are both veterans of life on the road and innovators, some might even say iconoclasts, of traditional Bluegrass music.

While Greensky’s roots remain planted firmly in Americana’s musical traditions, band members – dobro player Anders Beck, banjo player Michael Arlen Beck, guitarist Dave Bruzza, upright bass player Mike Devol, mandolinist Paul Hoffman –  describe Greensky Bluegrass as more rock-and-roll than Bluegrass.

“I learned to play Bluegrass side by side with these guys,” said Mike Devol. “But over the years, we have written a lot of our own material and developed our own sound. Now we still play Bluegrass in the sense that we play Bluegrass instruments, and we also occasionally play Bluegrass sets on stage, but the way we approach our songwriting and our live performances is very much as a rock band. It is a big production, high volume experience.”

Greensky Bluegrass also experiments with electronics during their shows, something that Devol says sets them somewhat apart from not just traditional Bluegrass but also from some of the band’s progressive “Newgrass” contemporaries. Yet, said Devol, themes common to traditional Bluegrass continue to influence and inspire the band’s music.

“Paul Hoffman and David Bruzza are prolific songwriters and they write about what they know,” said Devol. “We are from Michigan, so there’s not many odes to the sweet smoky mountains of Appalachia. But there is a darkness in Bluegrass music – the old murder ballads, being poor, being heartbroken. Our band isn’t bleak but a lot of our songs capture things like the bleakness of the Michigan winter, and the work ethic of blue collar Mid-West – there is a realness to shared hardships and themes of regret, wherever you come from, that just makes for really good songs.”

Mike Devol joined the group in 2004, shortly after the release of the band’s debut album Less Than Supper. But it was the summer of 2006, when Greensky Bluegrass won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition, that “really lit a fire” for the band, according to Devol.

“I think the world of Telluride,” said Devol. “It encompasses what is best in the Bluegrass world we sort of inhabit. There is no venue like it, just the natural beauty and majesty of the place. It also gave us the chance to meet our heroes – Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Gerry Douglas, those guys – as well as virtuoso players like Chris Thile and the Punch Brother. All these people changed Bluegrass by the way they played it, and for them to embrace what we were doing was huge.”

And, after more than a decade, Greensky Bluegrass now finds itself in the position of mentoring young musicians, according to Devol.

“That is such an honor for us,” said Devol. “There is plenty of talent out there who can carry the torch farther than we can, and in a different direction from what we can because they have different ideas about taking the tradition – and respecting it – but also moving it forward, and making it their own.”

Along with Telluride, another city that enjoys a special place in the hearts of Greensky Bluegrass is New Orleans, said Devol.

“New Orleans is delicious,” said Devol. “I love the food, the street culture. I love the little adventures you can go on. I love the late nights in the French Quarter, just coming in and out the music clubs on Frenchmens. There is vibrancy to New Orleans that you don’t predictably see in other American cities. I just hope that we don’t get into too much trouble!”

Greensky Bluegrass will play on Saturday, May, 6, 2017 at the House of Blues. 225 Decatur Street, NO, LA, 70116.

More information about Greensky Bluegrass is available here

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The Women’s March New Orleans: 2017 Jazz Funeral For Democracy.

On Saturday January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as America’s 45th President, more than a million women took to the streets all over the world in protest as part of The Women’s March.

Here in New Orleans, the streets of the Crescent City were packed with upwards of 10,000 marchers, and I was one of them.

It was a protest march infused with New Orleans’ signature mix, when roused, of fabulous fun and banked fury. After meeting  in Washington Park, thousands of marchers spilled out onto Esplanade Ave, turned on Decatur Street and then onwards into the heart of the French Quarter. The glitz and glitter were on display as protesters made their feelings about America’s latest president known in no uncertain terms.

dump-trumpAs Trump settles in to squat in the Oval Office for as long as he can,  his willing mouthpiece, Kellyanne Conway, told ABC News that she “didn’t see the point” to The Women’s March on Washington, possibly the only thing that I have heard Conway say that I actually believe.

The Women’s March may be the largest protest demonstration in US history, and she doesn’t see the point.

More than 1 million women marching in the US capital and other cities around the world against Trump, her client in the White House, and she doesn’t see the point. 500,000 people marching in Washington alone, and she doesn’t see the point.

However, she does see the point of what she has coined “Alt-facts.”

Alt-facts – a phrase that surely has Orwell spinning in his grave – is just the latest of a series of gambits by this gang of rapacious hucksters to see what they invent, what they can co-opt, and what they can get away with.

But here’s the thing, there are no “Alt-facts”,  just like there is no “Alt-right.” An “Alt-fact” is a lie, the “Alt-right”are Nazis and White Supremacists. Climate change is real. Trump, at his inauguration, is the least popular president in history of the United States. Those crowds were small, and so, apparently, are his hands. These are the facts. Alt-facts are nothing. They don’t exist, except in the feverish minds of Trump and his detestable cabal.silenceConway also very much sees the point in trying, by all means possible, to get people to agree with her lies despite any and all evidence to the contrary, including the evidence of their own eyes. She definitely sees the point in demonizing the press as she deflects real questions while wittering on about whatever agenda she has been paid to push, beating about any and every bush instead of actually answering the question. Her tone drips with condescension  as she regurgitates her stinking mishmash of bile and bullshit, catchphrases and untruths, on radio, on paper, and on TV

“I want good relations with the press,” Conway said on air during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “But it has to be a two-way street. When I see twitter feeds, when I see words that people are using to describe this president, it is incredibly disrespectful to the office.”

The words used to describe Trump and his proposed swampish administration are not disrespectful to the office of President, but they are indicative of the respect that Trump has failed to earn during his acrimonious campaign and will no doubt continue to fail to earn in office as the 45th President.

Respecting  the office of President does not mean that you have respect the man who currently holds that office.  Trump, as a man, has earned the disrespect accorded to him over the course of his seven decades on this planet. I have no doubt that he will continue to earn that disrespect as president. I think he will earn it bigly. Wealth doesn’t equate with worth. While  Trump is wealthy, he is in no way worthy of the office he currently occupies. And he never was. Ask the CIA. Once they get over his shambling speech to them in Virginia, that is. Former CIA Director John Brennan also had a few things to say about the Memorial Wall speech.

Why did Trump choose to come out in his first White House meeting and say things that are not true? It is because Trump is a liar, it is because Sean Spicer is a liar, and it is because Conway is a liar. Why call them liars? They are liars because they lie. And they have kept lying. And no amount of  spouting “Alt-facts” alters that, much as liars would like it to.

“We are going to watch the President does, we are going to watch what the President says,” said George Stephanopoulos. “When the President speaks to the CIA and says things that aren’t true. When his press secretary goes to the podium and repeats things that are not true, is that okay? Isn’t it our responsibility in the press to call them on that? To hold them to account?”

Yes, it is.

rightsLater in the interview with Stephanopoulos, Conway demanded that the press “respect the office and its current occupant.”

The brass neck of this woman is breathtaking, but her idea of a “two-way street”, not just in regards to the press but in regards to anyone who questions her narrative, can be summed up as “ignore reality and repeat after me.”

Just days after Trump’s shoddy ill-attended inauguration,  she and Spicer attempted to ram “Alt-facts” down the throat of the press and populous, and failed. And even if Trump, with a spectacular lack of humility, does officially, via executive order,  declare the day of his inauguration a National Day of Patriotism, that doesn’t change. They failed. 

As  Trump’s version of 2017 gets its jackboots and starts its march into his self-described apocalyptic future, I, and millions of other men and women marched into ours. One in which the line drawn in the shifting sands of Trump’s post-factual world is our vigilance. our willingness to fight back, and our refusal to be silenced. 

What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but the Women’s March happened, millions of people said NO to Trump and his self-serving vision of America in a way that dwarfed  Conway’s lies. It happened. It was real. And it is not going away.

Sorry, Kellyanne. Reality is a bitch that way.

For more of my photos taken at The  Women’s March: New Orleans click here

 

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/

 

 

 

 

San Fermin New Orleans Style

On Saturday July 9, 2016, in a wildly popular take on the centuries-old Spanish tradition of El Encierro, or The Running of the Bulls, more than 200 gleeful bat-wielding be-horned roller derby girls will pursued tens of thousands of willing victims along a mile-long course beginning and ending at The Sugar Mill, 1021 Convention Blvd, as part of the Crescent City’s 10th annual San Fermin en Nueva Orleans festival.

El Encierro is the heart of the world-famous festival of San Fermin. Falling every year between July 6 and July 14, each year in the Spanish city of Pamplona fighting bulls chase crowds of fleeing men along narrow streets in honor of Saint Fermin, who, it is said, met his untimely martyrdom being dragged through the city followed by savage herd of angry bulls.

Set to coincide with Pamplona’s encierro, this year’s San Fermin en Nueva Orleans will take place from Friday July 8 to Sunday July 10.  In a weekend packed with live music, pre-parties, after parties, after-after parties, an Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest, a dunk tank, and even, for the adventurously bouncy, a mechanical bull, for many people the joyously anarchic Running of the Bulls, starring New Orleans’ home roller derby team, the Big Easy Roller Girls (BERG), remains the highlight of San Fermin en Nueva Orleans.

Founded in 2005, the members of BERG were scattered by Hurricane Katrina. Thanks to an avalanche of support by other rollergirl leagues across America, BERG not only survived the storm, but came home and started recruiting.

One such post-Katrina recruit was artist Lauren Soboul Villegas. In 2007, Villegas, A.K.A. Cheap Thrills, participated in the very first Running of The Bulls here in New Orleans.

“Tracey Bellina-Milazzo, one of the founders of NOLA Bulls which puts on this event, was also a rollergirl, so she reached out to us,” remembered Villegas. “It was such a fledgling event, with maybe 13 skater-bulls in the French Quarter. We were hoping that maybe 100 people would show up. That first year, I think we got around 150, and we were just over the moon!”

As part of one of the fastest growing festivals in New Orleans, it didn’t take long until the Running of the Bulls outgrew its founders’ expectations and the French Quarter. During 2012, the event was also opened up to roller derby leagues from both across America and overseas, and, according to Tracey Bellina-Milazzo, A.K.A. Archbishop Pummel, this year spectators can expect to see more than 300 roller girls chasing anywhere between 15,000 to 18,000 runners.

“I think the run is so popular because it has that New Orleans sense of silliness, fun, and debauchery to it – without the risk of getting gored to death by an actual bull,” said Bellina – Milazzo. “And since this is our tenth run, it is going to be bigger and badder than ever before.”

A high-octane event for everyone involved, initially the rules of engagement between Roller Bulls and runners were somewhat slap-dash, according to Villegas.  Today, safety stipulations regular both the type of bat used by the bulls and where on the runners’ bodies that bat can be used.

“We all use undecorated hollow, foam-covered bats,” said Villegas “We don’t hit people on their upper body, or the front of their body – we are not trying to hurt anyone.  It is all in fun, although some people do like to come up and show us their butts afterwards.”

However, for Villegas – currently on roller derby sabbatical due to an injury she sustained in 2014 – being a former Big Easy Roller Girl and current participant in the Running of the Bulls means much more to her than just fun.

“Joining BERG helped me get over the trauma of Katrina,” said Villegas. “Roller derby was very cathartic. I could get out there and play, no matter what else was going on, and it gave me focus and a physical outlet for the intense emotions I was feeling at the time – my rage and my helplessness. For me, the Running of the Bulls is euphoric, good, light-hearted fun. It is the perfect amalgamation of the things people in this city love to do, and what people love to come to this city to do.”

And, said Villegas, while it is difficult to pick out just one favorite skater-bull memory from “so very many amazing memories,” one particular moment in 2014 does stand out above the rest.

“That was the year that I finally spotted my husband Devon in the crowd of runners,” she laughed. “He had eluded me for years! It was like, finally! I am coming to get you!”

This story appeared in the New Orleans Advocate at:

http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/beaucoup/16254714-171/roller-girls-hit-the-streets-and-some-runners-in-running-of-the-bulls

Mixing With The Minx

As I walked towards The Marigny Perk to meet Ms. Trixie Minx – the artistic director of New Orleans Burlesque troupe, Fleur de Tease – I never for one second thought that I would fail to recognize her.

But when I arrived at the coffee shop, and looked around for that outrageously blonde, slyly hilarious coquette, Trixie Minx, she was nowhere to be seen. But one wave, and shouted hello later, I found myself sitting down to chat about the art of burlesque, and its place in New Orleans’ history with Trixie’s brunette alter ego.

On her days off, Trixie goes by the name of Alexis. Dressed in a perfectly fitted 1950’s style sleeveless dress – the iridescent stormy grey-green color matched her eyes exactly – Alexis is taller than I expected. Very slender, with her dark brown hair braided into two short pigtails looks she looked like platinum bombshell Trixie’s equally pretty but slightly more subdued sister.

“A lot of times people will miss me,” said Alexis, as, for the briefest second, Trixie’s brilliantly mischievous smile flashes, and sparkles across her face.

“Once I was handing out flyers for a Fleur De Tease show after a Pilates class,” she said. “So I had yoga pants, a tank top, and a hat on. I handed out this flyer to someone who said, ‘Oh, I don’t need one of these, I know Trixie.’ I was looking them right in the eye, and they didn’t recognize me.”

I am a longtime fan of burlesque shows. For me, the louche music, the sly humor, and the sheer beauty of the performers – along with the excuse to dress up and knock back a few cocktails – sing a sparkling siren song that I never really cared to resist.

A good burlesque show – and there are few things sadder, or more uncomfortable to watch, than a bad burlesque show – both fascinates and entertains me. And Ms. Minx’s burlesque dance troupe is nothing if not entertaining.

Fleur De Tease’s changing cast of burlesque dancers are equally fascinating, and include the mysterious Madame Mystere, Roxie Le Rouge, Mamie Dame and Ooops the Clown. While titillation is obviously on the menu, said Alexis, the best burlesque performances successfully dance the line between revealing all, and revealing just enough.

“I think that people’s perception of burlesque is very different from the outside,” said Alexis. “The word ‘burlesque,’ when you break it down, means ‘to joke,’ so the idea behind burlesque is more about humor than stripping. Its roots are tongue-in-cheek, so it is actually more about being silly, and making the audience laugh.”

In terms of both performance and entertainment, explained Alexis, burlesque reveals more about performers’ thought process and imagination than their physical body.

“Strip clubs are all about the flesh,” said Alexis. “Burlesque is all about the performance. It’s a circus show. It’s about breaking the barriers between performer and audience, so everyone can just enjoy a moment together – without being creepy.”

A trained ballerina, the first step Alexis took on her journey towards Trixie Minx started with a broken foot. Unable to continue ballet dancing due to her injury, she dabbled with other dance genres, before being persuaded by a fellow dancer to give burlesque a try.

“My first thought was no, no, no, no, no!” laughed Alexis. “I am a dancer! I don’t do the naked thing! But when I started performing as Trixie Minx, it felt very much like I was two different people – like Clark Kent and Superman. And the more I performed as Trixie, the more the character of Trixie took shape. Everything that I am too shy to say – or too nervous about what other people might think – Trixie has free range to say. And that is such fun.”

New Orleans has long been famous for welcoming art forms that might raise eyebrows in other less adventurous cities. While New Orleans’ casual permissiveness has not changed, the character of what might arguably be the Crescent City’s most infamously permissive street – Bourbon Street – most definitely has.

According to Alexis, in the 1940s and 1950s, both men and women would dress to nines to take in one of the many risqué shows performed nightly in famous clubs such as The Sho Bar or The Casino Royale. Since those halcyon French Quarter days, Bourbon Street has transformed into a neon Golgotha of gentlemen’s clubs, T-shirt shops, and daiquiri shops. In the French Quarter’s roiling mix of old and new, Bourbon Street can still be said to be synonymous in the minds of many with ‘a good time,’ but it can no longer, by any stretch of the imagination, still be thought of as synonymous with glamour.

Or can it?

Reclaiming Bourbon Street’s lost ‘grace and glamour,’ is something that Alexis feels is important, and, to that end, visitors to New Orleans can catch weekly Fleur de Tease performances, starring Trixie Minx in all her blonde glory, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, 300 Bourbon Street, and the Saint Hotel, 931 Canal Street.

“We rotate the cast at both hotels,” said Alexis. “It’s a little raunchy, but it’s also classy, and there is a nice ‘speakeasy vibe’ to it all. Showing everything would negate the tease. A lot of people dress up to the nines for it. And they are simply dazzling.”

Alexis’s face is once again illuminated by that blonde 10 million gigawatt smile.

“And I think I should also mention,” added Trixie Minx, fluttering her thick eyelashes demurely. “That burlesque dancers are actually born with pasties. You know that you are meant to be a burlesque dancer when you look down, and your boobs are all sparkly.”

More information about Fleur de Tease is available http://www.fleurdetease.com/shows.html

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

A Tale of Two Musical Cities

On Nov. 8, 2014, the New York – based Black 47 headlined the Irish Network- New Orleans (IN-NOLA) Famine Commemoration Gala  held at the Gallier Hall, 545 St. Charles Ave.

The following week, Black 47 disbanded, bringing exactly 25 years as one of Americas most politically vocal Irish bands to a close.

“There are two great cities in America,” said Larry Kirwan, founder and front-man of legendary progressive Celtic rock band, Black 47. “One is New York City; the other is New Orleans.”

While Kirwan hails from County Wexford, Black 47 doesn’t come from the “jigs and reels” tradition of Irish music.

“In Wexford, there is a tradition of what we call ‘long-form’ singing,” said Kirwan. “It tells the history of a people or a place. Well, we still have famine today – it is an ongoing thing. I first heard the term ‘Black 47’ from my grandfather. It was used to describe 1847, the worst year of the Irish Famine. The Irish famine was political, and so Black 47 was political for that reason.”

As a band, Black 47 is known for incorporating not just rock, but hip hop, reggae and even punk into its music.

“Using different rhythms is liberating,” said Kirwan. “When Black 47 formed back in 1989, we wanted to tell the story of how the Irish got to America, but we also wanted to tell the modern story of Irish immigration. We were using history to explain what was happening at the time, and what is still happening now. Why not use jazz timing, or hip hop? Why limit yourself to just jigs and reels?”

Celtic chanteuse torch singer, Tara O’Grady, also performed at the gala. A first generation Irish American, O’Grady was born less than a mile from Louis Armstrong’s home in New York City. Living in an Irish neighborhood in Queens, she grew up “surrounded by traditional Irish music.”

“While I loved the Irish songs,” remembered O’Grady. “I also loved swing and jazz. So I started taking Irish songs, and adding swing to them.”

According to O’Grady, singing used to be her “passion on the side,” but since 2011, she has been pursuing her music career full-time.

Next year will see the release of her fourth album, “Irish Bayou,” which was inspired by a trip to New Orleans during March 2014. One track on the new album, titled ‘A Heaping Helping of Your Love,’ is a love song dedicated to the sheer deliciousness of Camellia Grill’s chocolate pecan pie.

“It was so good I just couldn’t forget it, and I wrote that song on the way home,” laughed O’Grady.

“But New Orleans also has a taste of Ireland,” she said. “It’s relaxed. You can have a proper chat with people, sit down over a meal and not feel rushed. Musically, I pick up on the influences of other places, especially if I already love the aesthetic. And I find New Orleans very inspiring. It is an extraordinary city; a combustion of creativity.”

Kirwan also has memories of New Orleans that keep him coming back for more. He described the first time the band played at Tipitina’s as “one of the greatest memories I have of Black 47.”

“In New Orleans, all the different ethnicities mix, and so does their music,” said Kirwan.

“I met African Americans after the Tipitina’s show called things like Murphy, and Byrne; they told me that they had Irish ancestry. They also could hear we had been influenced by Bob Marley, Dr. John and Louis Armstrong. That mix of cultures, both in New Orleans and in New York, is far more interesting to me than some strict orthodoxy of ‘Irishness.’”

“For me, Black 47’s music has always represented modern Irish immigrants,” said Adrian D’Arcy, president of IN-NOLA, and Dublin native.

“And Tara O’Grady just adds such New Orleans flair to Irish music. IN-NOLA’s mission is to promote New Orleans, and the New Orleans culture to the Irish American Community and Ireland, and to also promote Ireland, and Irish culture in the city of New Orleans. What better way to do that than through music?”

Further information about Tara O’Grady is available at Tara O’Grady

Further information about Black 47 is available at Black 47

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

The Zydepunks – Bridging the Gap Between The Old and The New.

One of New Orleans’s most original folk bands, for many music lovers the Zydepunks probably need no introduction.

 

The Zydepunks are Juan Kuffner on vocals and accordion, Denise Bonis and Joseph McGinty on fiddle, Joseph Lilly on drums, and Scott Beelman on bass. Frequent collaborators and former members include guitarist Michael James, accordionists Vincent Schmidt and Eve Venema, and bassist Patrick Keenan.

As impossible to pigeon-hole as New Orleans itself, the Zydepunks take their inspiration from a wide diversity of musical genres, including Cajun, Punk, Irish and Zydeco. For more than 10 years they have made it their on-going mission to challenge established musical boundaries with their iconoclastic take on world music.

Founding member Juan Kuffner moved to New Orleans in 1998. Channeling his fascination with Cajun and Zydeco music, in 2003, the Zydepunks were born.

“Originally we were just going to be a Cajun and Zydeco band,” said Kuffner. “But we just kept on adding other types of music. We never wanted to limit our music. Irish music has always been a part of what we do, as has Cajun, Yiddish, Eastern European, and Punk. Music always influences other types of music. So where is our exact dividing line? I don’t even know. ”

According to Kuffner, while world music, including Irish and Cajun, has enjoyed a renaissance in the last few years, one of the things Irish and Cajun music have in common is that, as genres, they were often “looked down on” by what he described as the “urban middle class.”

“Right or wrong, that is what people did,” said Kuffner. “And when I first moved here, I felt that even in New Orleans. But just as the attitude to Cajun music has shifted a lot over the years because of bands like Beau Soleil, and the Lost Bayou Ramblers, so has the attitude towards Irish music. The question of what is Irish music is fascinating. For a lot of people, Irish music is a kind of popularized Dublin pub song tradition, and that is questionable. Irish music isn’t just one particular form – it’s a lot more subtle than that.”

According to Kuffner, his “formative experience” with world music came while music shopping in a Virginia record store, where he grew up.

“I remember suddenly just being overwhelmed by this feeling that I was being pushed into buying “trendy” music for no other reason than this idea that music should always be “new” and “young,”” said Kuffner.

“And I just got really angry. People grab onto modernity in a way that I just don’t get. I love old music. To me it is important and valid to listen to old music, to world music, to jazz and blues, to Cajun music. People should look through all these treasures and respect them, and it has always been our mission to bridge that gap between the old and the new. And let people know that all world music is our heritage.”

More information is available at The Zydepunks