Trombone player Charlie Halloran will appear at this year’s French Quarter Fest on nine separate occasions.
Given that each set is slated to last approximately one hour, Halloran expects to perform about nine hours of live music between Thursday, April 9, and Sunday, April 12.
That’s like running a marathon, only on stage in front of tens of thousands of people who expect top performances from each musician, and all while playing the trombone.
For Halloran, this French Quarter Fest, his seventh since moving to New Orleans from his native St. Louis, will be just another exercise in endurance.
“On Thursday, my day is all over the map, which is really cool,” he said. “I’m playing with the Diablo’s Horns in the morning, and then Panorama Jazz Band plays right after them, and then I’m playing with Steve Pistorius at Preservation Hall for a CD release party. I’m not on the CD, but I’m subbing for his normal trombone player. On Friday, I’m playing with Steve Pistorius again, and then that evening I’m playing at d.b.a. Saturday, I’m playing with Tim Laughlin and Orange Kellin, and then I play the Spotted Cat with Panorama. And then on Sunday, I’m playing with the Palmetto Bug Stompers, and then Cori Walters’ band, and then Tom Saunders and the Tomcats.”
If the nine French Quarter fest appearances won’t be enough, you’ll be able to see Halloran on Friday and Saturday nights on Frenchmen Street, bringing the total number of shows he will play into the double digits.
So how is he going to prepare for such a herculean feat of musical endurance?
“I’ll try to get a good breakfast in every morning and get as much sleep as I can each night,” he said. “I’m not going to be going out at night. I’m going to wait until Sunday night before I go out to unwind. It’s always important to me, as dumb as it sounds, that I eat well on weekends like that.”
With nine hours of playing on tap, dealing with fatigue and other physical considerations has to be a priority.
“I keep a bottle of Advil in my trombone case, and I’ll pop an Advil whenever my lips start to swell up,” Halloran said. “I take a long time every morning warming up. I get up early for a musician. I’ll probably get up at nine every day and I’ll spend an hour playing long tones and warming up really carefully, just to be prepared.”
While Miles Teller’s bleeding hands in the recent movie Whiplash and the now-legendary tales of Bruce Springsteen playing guitar until his fretboard was covered with blood from his split open fingertips are familiar to music fans, playing the trombone for excessive lengths of time also creates physical problems.
“It does get hard, playing that many hours,” Halloran said. “I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had any problems with my elbow or my back from playing trombone. Most of the people who have issues with that will have to do Alexander techniques, or they have to do carpal tunnel treatments.”
Halloran said he has fully recovered from a hernia that may or may not have been caused or exacerbated by his trombone playing, but his main concern is the state of his lips.
“Lip-wise, if you don’t warm it up correctly, it’s like going out and sprinting without stretching first,” he said. “Your lips will swell up on you, and they won’t respond consistently the way you want them to for you to play nine hours in a day. They’ll get swollen and slow.”
But the hardworking Halloran will not be alone in his ironman approach.
Attentive festival attendees will likely see the same musicians on multiple stages throughout French Quarter Fest.
“When you’re running from stage to stage, you see all of the other people who are doing that as well,” Halloran said. “I’ll see Matt Perrine a hundred times, I’ll see Craig Klein a hundred times, I’ll see Ernie Ellie a hundred times. I’m going to see all of these people who are just zooming from job to job.”
These performers, some of whom have gravitated to New Orleans from across the globe, carry on a rich tradition of sidemen that have helped prop up jazz music since the art form was created.
For these musicians, the glory lies in playing within the context of a band, not necessarily from standing in the spotlight.
“I’m not the star of any of the shows, so that’s a bit of a relief,” Halloran said. “I couldn’t be the star of nine performances, but I can stand off to the side. That’s fine.”
But not being the band leader does come with its share of drawbacks. Halloran will have to meld into the style of drastically different bands on the fly, with only 20 minutes between some sets.
Surprisingly, that is what he considers to be the easy part.
“Mentally, I love playing with all of these people,” he said. “It’s a total treat for me. It’s always exciting. I’m happy to be there. It’s really easy to stay in the moment because it’s a real treat.”
So keep an eye out for Charlie Halloran this French Quarter Fest. You’ll more than likely see him more than once.