John Swenson wrote in the December issue of OffBeat, “The Threadhead Records phenomenon has reshaped the profile of the local recording industry.” In just four years, Threadhead Records has indeed gone from a collection of music fans that came to New Orleans for fun to an actual phenomenon.
The Threadheads are folks from all around the world who met on the Jazz Fest chat forum, (hence the name Threadheads). They are from all walks of life, and while many live here in New Orleans, they come from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles—all around the world, and as far away as Australia.
Before the flood, they met and had fun in New Orleans at Jazz Fest. They were New Orleans music fans who found each other online and became a party/support group during the Fest, enjoying the city, its music and each other’s company.
After the flooding of the city, they chatted online about the city they loved, offering housing and support to displaced friends and, like all of us, wondering about the future of the New Orleans music they loved so much. They decided that their annual Jazz Fest get together had to be more than the fun “patry,” as they had named it in the pre-flood, innocent days. The year after the flood, their patry was turned into a fundraiser; essentially, they charged each other to attend a party they threw for themselves that previously had been free. Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers played that first year, and the Threadheads raised $5,000, all of which they donated to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic. They went home from the Fest feeling empowered, a feeling we all were grasping for at the time, and decided to expand their efforts the following year.
The second year after the flood, the patry was opened to friends of Threadhead members as long as they donated. $50,000.00 was raised. More bands were added to the bill: Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Shamarr Allen, and John Boutte and Paul Sanchez playing as an acoustic duo.
I had quit Cowboy Mouth the November before and had just returned from living in Belize, Central America. It was good to sit in a warm courtyard in the Marigny and sing with my dear friend John Boutte. It felt natural at a time when not much in New Orleans or my life did. After the set, a Threadhead from California, Chris Joseph, approached me and said, “That was great. You guys should make a record together.” I laughed and said, “We can’t make rent, let alone make records right now.” He asked how much it would take, I named a figure, and he said he would get back to me. Two weeks later, he emailed and asked where to send the money. He didn’t ask us to sign anything, he didn’t ask to hear the music or control the project. He simply asked for my word that we would pay the Threadheads back within a year of the record’s release, and with that skeleton of an agreement Threadhead Records was born. These New Orleans music fans from around the world had found their very personal way of helping rebuild the city they loved, and they organized to make more records releasing 10 in the last year with more on the way in 2010.
In the last four years, the Threadheads have raised over $150,000 for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic. In addition, Threadhead Records has raised more than $150,000 to help New Orleans musicians affected by the flood make new music.
After the flooding of our city, we all wondered how we would begin again, wondered where the new music would come from, wondered how we could form a community again. The community, music and hope for tomorrow have come in many forms from thousands of people. This very special group of people have volunteered to rebuild the local music scene with shows, donations and most importantly, putting new New Orleans music into the world. They were not in the music business; they were and remain fans of New Orleans music. Some have donated thousands. Some are fans who are struggling to keep a job in these difficult times but still donated five dollars just to be a part of the spirit of Threadhead Records. They gave me what I most needed—hope—at a time when I had very little.
What Threadhead Records has done will resonate through the lives of the musicians they have helped for years. The music they have donated their time, money and energy to help bring into the world will be a part of the soundtrack of this city for generations to come.
Thank you OffBeat Magazine for honoring true music fans and wonderful people, my friends— The Threadheads and Threadhead Records.