On a recent Saturday evening Alex McMurray filled Siberia with an audience that hung on every word of his compositions, a catalog that ranges from wry to wistful to ribald. McMurray is adept at this solo magic, playing material mostly culled from his 2012 release I Will Never Be Alone In This Land. McMurray has also been playing shows, often with special guests, Thursday nights in the Saturn Bar, in what amounts to an intimate house party.
A little too intimate for McMurray’s taste.
“When I come here to Siberia on a Saturday I get a good crowd of people who are listening,” he said after the show. “At the Saturn Bar I get like four people. It’s hard to justify. I mean I love the Saturn Bar. I love the way it sounds, I like the family and it’s right by my house but on Thursday at 10 pm I’ve never been able to draw flies there.”
For the next few weeks McMurray will be playing his songs to a much larger crowd in a series of performances in and around Jazz Fest. McMurray will appear with his own band; the Paul Sanchez Rolling Road Show; the Cast of Nine Lives; an interview I’m moderating with author Jay Mazza at the Heritage stage; the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus; and his band with Matt Perrine and Washboard Chaz, the Tin Men, which will draw from a new album, including McMurray’s hurricane-inspired “Turn My Lights Back On.” Those last two groups will perform at the satellite festival McMurray organized in his backyard, Chaz Fest.
The charming pocket Festival is scheduled this year on May 1. Chaz Fest has grown into a signature Bywater event since its inception following Katrina, when a lot of locals felt like any recovery that was going to take place would have to be personal.
“It’s a neighborhood thing,” said McMurray. “It’s a small thing. It’s everybody’s backyard who lives there.” Though Chaz Fest was first thought of as a way to celebrate local musicians like the Tin Men who were pushed out of Jazz Fest to make way for national acts, at this point McMurray harbors no resentment toward Jazz Fest and has even played it with the Tin Men.
“People write that Chaz Fest is these embittered New Orleans musicians saying ‘Fuck you’ to Jazz Fest and ‘We’re gonna have our own festival.’ That might have even been true in 2006 but that’s totally changed now. I love Jazz Fest. I really do. I feel sort of like a kid in a candy store there. It’s part of the soul of the city. I think we all love Jazz Fest. Maybe that’s why we bitch about it so much.”