Wesley Schmidt played many diverse roles in his hometown of New Orleans. As the owner of the Frenchmen Street jazz mecca Snug Harbor, he worked quietly during the day in his upstairs office. In contrast, Schmidt strutted proudly as a grand marshal for the Pair-A-Dice Tumblers, a krewe/band that in 1981 became the renowned Storyville Stompers Brass Band. His public persona also included being a founder of the MOMs Ball, a semi-private, notoriously wild Mardi Gras costume party. Wesley Schmidt died on Friday, April 12, at the age of 68.
“Wesley was kind of a paradox,” Jason Patterson, the talent buyer for Snug Harbor, agrees. “He kept to himself, or else he’d be way up front partying like there’s no tomorrow at MOMs, or when being a grand marshal.”
Whatever the case, Schmidt took his positions seriously. He rose from assistant manager to manager and finally to owner of Snug Harbor, upon the death of George Brumat in 2007.
“I feel like he carried the gauntlet of George’s legacy at Snug Harbor,” Patterson offers. “Wesley felt a real obligation to keep it going as George would have wanted it to be. He kept the policies that George formed in place, and he did a good job.”
Schmidt brought that same sense of responsibility when he took to the streets or paraded at events as the grand marshal with the Storyville Stompers. “He had a flair for dressing, was very dapper and a good dancer,” says Woody Penouilh, the Stompers’ tuba man and leader. “He was always dressed to the nines and would have a brand new suit every year for Jazz Fest—decorations, shirts and shoes. He took that and the tradition seriously.”
Many locals could spot the personable, umbrella-waving Schmidt at the front of the brass band annually at the St. Anne, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day parades. He also traveled with the Stompers, making trips to Washington D.C.’s Mardi Gras celebration since its inception in 1981, and even performing in Japan.
Penouilh, a longtime friend of Schmidt’s, was also with him in the early years of the MOMs Ball, and says he believes that he enjoyed the party simply for the opportunity to get together and have fun with his friends. “I took him to MOMs this year, so he got to say goodbye to a lot of people.”
Schmidt’s involvement with music preceded his three decades at Snug Harbor. In the 1970s he managed Luigi’s, an Italian restaurant near UNO where he booked the Rhapsodizers, a precursor to the Radiators. Later, he became the manager of the Dream Palace that is now the Blue Nile.
“Everybody really liked Wesley,” Patterson offers. “I’d say he was an official character of New Orleans. He’d like that.”