Local musicians are rarely given any real power or influence. Musicians generally don’t own nightclubs. Music journalists don’t often make music themselves.
But in 2008, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Greg “Schatzy” Schatz managed to infiltrate the French Quarter Fest and become its entertainment manager. Schatz has since been one of the voices that shape the fest’s music each year—among his many other less glamorous duties at FQF, Satchmo Summer Fest and Christmas New Orleans Style.
“I’ve been lucky to be a professional musician in this town since 1995,” says Schatzy. “But for a few years there things had been a little spotty, workwise. I had played a lot with Jeremy Lyons; 80 percent of my work was with him. So after he moved away in 2005, I went with him to New York for a little bit, and soon I came back down to New Orleans, looking at various options.”
When musicians try to switch careers, they often realize the downside of having worked their whole life to sharpen their chops in just one area. But Schatzy got lucky.
“I interviewed for this position and found out they wanted someone who related to musicians, and would understand both sides of it,” he says. “Whereas, being on this side of it has really helped me understand, as a musician, what people who are organizing things go through. This job just seemed oddly suited for my skill set—though I’ve learned a lot too.”
Schatz is just one of 11 people on the committee that decides which musicians to officially book. “If I or someone on the committee likes something, we’ll suggest it, and if someone is really gung-ho about something, then it often gets in. But more than anything, we like a lot of variety,” Schatz explains. “We sometimes book music that may not fit our own personal tastes, but we know it’s important to have at the festival. I like the crowd to be surprised, because I myself like surprises.”
With so many iconic New Orleans musicians to choose from, Schatz says that keeping the fest fresh sometimes presents a challenge. “Within that framework you have the favorites people want to hear year after year, but then you don’t want the same festival every year. So it’s a bit of a balancing act.” He points out that, this year, FQF will feature over 40 debut performances. “Usually it’s at least 20, but we doubled that this year,” says Schatz. “Aaron Neville has, to my knowledge, not played French Quarter Fest with his solo project before. Then Thursday at the Abita Stage we have Louisiana LeRoux. And I’m excited about Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole, and Cedryl Ballou & the Zydeco Trendsetters, the Nayo Jones Experience, Tonya Boyd-Cannon, Washboard Rodeo—which is Washboard Chaz’s country swing band—and Love Evolution.”
Adds Schatz, “Hopefully, if I am not putting out a fire somewhere at the fest, I can check out these new artists.”
Schatz says the duties of entertainment manager at FQF have changed a bit over the course his nine years. “It’s everything from overseeing the application phase, then working with the entertainment committee, which comes up with who [we] want where and when. Then the actual booking and scheduling is sort of where a lot of my time gets spent. I make the phone calls and emails to fit them all into the puzzle.”
This year Schatz will coordinate four different sound companies providing sound to 23 different stages. “Well, two of the stages are actually venues that are our partners for whom I don’t have to the do the production or booking work. Then of course Preservation Hall is acoustic, so I don’t have to worry about them,” Schatz qualifies, making his job sound no less daunting.
His work for FQF has kept “Schatzy” too busy to ever perform his own music for the crowds, though he has managed to participate in one-off sets backing Jeremy Lyons or Little Freddie King on a song or two.
As a musician who has hauled his own heavy gear to the Earth’s ends, Schatz has concerned himself more with issues such as including more and more parking spaces for musicians playing FQF. “I coordinate parking for like 500 musicians in five different ground lots and garages. I am the one who gives everyone directions from those areas to three stages—though we try to make the lots as close as possible… This year we at least have a little more parking for them than last year.”
Schatz admits that his day job is not quite as electrifying as its end result. “We sit here hunched over our computers for months on end,” he says, “but when it actually happens, when the fest is going on, it’s a very exciting thing! When I am finally out there in the Quarter, working in the great outdoors, it really hits me like, ‘Oh yeah, all those emails and spreadsheets, they actually translated into something really fun!’”