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

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

Collision 2016

While I have occasionally been called a boozer, a schmoozer I am not. So I admit that when I attended Collision 2106, the massive technology networking conference hosted in New Orleans between the two weekends of Jazz Fest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Collision 2016 brought more than 11,000 entrepreneurs, investors, and media members to our already Jazz Fest crowded city. With so many talented people and so little time, I found it kind of overwhelming, and I am not in the least bit surprised that, according to Collision figures, more than 52,000 cups of coffee were drank during the event.

But like any other event, after your third cup of coffee the thing to do is find your niche, so I gravitated towards the Music Stage, where the conversation was kicked off by WWOZ’s new COO Arthur Cohen and Scott Aiges, long time director of programs for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, whose opening remarks set the stage for various explorations on how technology is changing the face of the music world, as well as the worlds of the various industries that depend on it.

After discussing the essential place of music in the structure of New Orleans, and the importance of making sure that that music is heard all over the world, Cohen and Aiges were followed by speakers Heather Gallagher and Bear Kitty, representatives of that most imaginative of all creative festival communities, Burning Man. Gallagher and Kitty focused their talk on the amazing power of intrinsically community-based creativity, and the importance of creating space in our communities for that creativity to thrive.

As the day went on, other issues discussed by various speakers included modern day music rights, the future of music media, building communities around live events, creative collaborations, and business models for funding music, and how to build an audience in this digital age.

It also saw a demonstration by Remidi CEO and DJ Andrea Baldereschi of the T8, a “wearable musical instrument” in the form of a smooth black glove which allows the wearer to create electronic music by simply tapping, not just a physical surface, but the very air itself. Eight sensors in the glove and a motor sensor bracelet detects the wearer’s hand movements, allowing them, via controls in the bracelet, to scroll through music samples and notes and set specific sounds that play when the hand moves in a certain way.

While a similar product was released by musician Imogen Heap in 2015, according to Remidi’s Chief Technology Officer, the TO is by far a more affordable option for most people. It also allows people with no formal musical training to produce high quality music almost immediately, he went on.

“Anyone can tap a rhythm,” said De May.

Collision also witnessed the merging of technology, bounce music, and twerking as New Orleans’ Queen of Bounce Big Freedia unveiled her new App at the conference.

big Freedia

 

“No one knows what the future of bounce is,” said Big Freedia. “But by using the new technology that is available, the number of social media platforms that you can reach is immense, and I want bounce, and the culture of New Orleans, to reach as many new audiences as they can.“

 

 

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