FRIDAY, APRIL 27—LAGNIAPPE STAGE, 11:30 A.M.
Persistence looks to finally pay off for Jon Roniger this Jazz Fest.
The New Orleans native makes his debut at the Fair Grounds this year a month before he hits the half-century mark. A globe-trotting singer-songwriter with a dozen solo albums under his belt, Roniger will perform with his Good for Nothin’ Band, a swinging staple of local music clubs whose formation was “nothing short of a miracle,” he says.
“We’re thrilled to be asked to play Jazz Fest,” says Roniger, talking on the phone while rushing from the airport to a late-afternoon gig on Frenchmen Street. “I applied for the last seven years and this band gets me in. It’s an exciting, fun time for us. We’ve put out a couple of records that we’re excited about. And three weeks after Jazz Fest, we take off for Europe.”
Roniger explains how he finally hit his current groove after building upon his decades of playing and writing in the mold of heroes such as Paul Simon and Bob Dylan by “delving deep into the jazzier side of writing and letting the movement come in chord changes.”
His new style of songcraft and showmanship led to a gig every Thursday at Maison and growing the Good for Nothin’ Band from a duo to a trio to a quintet. “We play 10 gigs a week in New Orleans, so we’re constantly surrounded and immersed in the city’s style. We like to make sure we’re just playing music and that we don’t have to be so serious all the damn time. A lot of players are uptight about the way they think jazz should be, and that affects their approach and delivery. When, really, the show’s just a reason for people to forget about life for a while.”
While steeped in his hometown’s musical traditions, Roniger credits his stint in Nashville as crucial to his current success. “Songwriting in Nashville is very businesslike,” he explains. “Two sessions a day… I did that five days a week for five years. Though I’d already been writing songs for 20 years, it was a real crash course in the study of creating a story in your song that has a beginning and end, character development, and different points of view.”
Crediting New Orleans as a city where the music business is that of live performance, Roniger says he’s happy to be back in his hometown “doing what I do.” Yet, his gypsy soul arrives at Jazz Fest rooted in the lessons he learned traveling the world, knowledge that fuels his art and his worldview.
“I’ve learned that it’s important to have your own point of view and stay true to that,” Roniger says. “I realized that, as a human being, I am not the center of the universe. It’s a big world out there.”