I don’t know what happened to you this year, but here in my hometown, we’re still adjusting to the wreckage left behind by The Thing.
Negatives: We lost a lot of wonderful musicians this year: Earl Turbinton and Willie Tee; Matthew Cormier, Zydeco Joe, “Joe Gun” Joseph, Dinerral Shavers, Doc Paulin, “Shep” Shepperd, Bois Sec Ardoin and so many more—and some not from old age or illness. I personally feel that many musicians passed on as a result of the terrible stress they endured post-Katrina. Tower Records closed its doors. The city (most stupidly) cracked down on second-line parades (but that’s been rectified, thank goodness).
But let’s not focus on the bad stuff. Positives: OffBeat’s new format and design has been a hit, and our local readers and subscribers love it, and our advertisers are getting results. Thanks to Elena Reeves, our talented designer, for putting up with our demands. We created OffBeatNOLA.mobi, our cool mobile site for music and festival listings. The Weekly Beat evolved this year as its own Internet magazine, with 21,000 subscribers, and counting. We have a dedicated, enthusiastic staff who love what they do and work very hard to keep the magazine growing, prosperous and true to its mission of promoting Louisiana music, culture and cuisine.
The State of Louisiana’s new Director of State Museums, David Kahn, announced that the Old U.S. Mint is going to be converted to a music museum (finally we have a commitment for a museum devoted to music!). All the great music festivals did well this year; the Jazz Fest is adding back another day in 2008 to get it back to seven days, and the Neville Brothers are returning to close out the fest.
The French Quarter Festival attendance broke records last year and will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2008. Essence came back to bring its economic impact and some well-needed musical diversity to the city in the heat of the summer. The Jazz and Heritage Foundation sponsored numerous community festivals: Festival Latina, New Orleans Blues Festival, New Orleans Seafood Festival, and many more. The Voodoo Music Experience in its new location became the can’t-miss event of the fall season. Other local museums are expanding as well, such as the World War II Museum. The Contemporary Arts Center is flush and expanding.
Because of the hard work of Cynthia Simien (one of this year’s Best of the Beat Award honorees), Todd Mouton, and many others in southwest Louisiana, we now have an official Cajun-Zydeco category in the Grammy Awards. Not only has Louisiana music taken it up a notch in recognition, there seems to be a real coalition of people working together to make sure the music and culture survives and expands.
The Music Co-op concept has expanded from New Orleans to Shreveport to Alexandria and Baton Rouge, with many musicians benefiting from its educational services. The Tipitina’s Foundation is building a music center in the Lower Ninth Ward where Fats Domino’s house once stood, and they’ve taken Fats and given him the honor he deserves via the fine tribute album they produced as a fundraiser. Renew Our Music and Sweet Home New Orleans, the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, and so many other organizations are supporting Louisiana musicians’ needs for paying gigs, housing, instruments, and health care.
We have a functional Louisiana Music Commission in Baton Rouge. Mitch Landrieu’s Cultural Economy focus seems to be the working.
Film, television and commercial productions are still going strong throughout the state, despite the scandal in state government regarding bribery and the questionable acquisition of tax credits by production companies and some local festivals.
Musicians are working, and are slowly—too slowly—beginning to recover. So there are a lot of good, hopeful things happening.
We’re celebrating local music through our Best of the Beat Awards show once again on January 12, 2008 at the House of Blues (updated details are online or check out The Weekly Beat every Thursday—subscribe for free at OffBeat.com).
Voting for Best of the Beat will be available through January 3 so cast your votes now for the bands and musicians you feel are most deserving for their work in 2007!
We’re honoring one of the greatest contributors to New Orleans music ever—Maestro Wardell Quezergue. Read John Swenson’s story about Mr. Quezergue in this issue; Wardell is one of the most respected elders in the history of New Orleans music. We are fortunate to be able to honor him this year—to give him his “roses while he’s still here,” in the words of Antoinette K-Doe. Wardell is an amazing man; he still arranges and composes despite the loss of his sight to glaucoma—he told me he sees the “notes in his head” and has his son transcribe for him!
Thank you Mr. Quezergue, for bestowing your talent on us over these many years and for being such a positive influence on New Orleans music and musicians.
We’re honoring Mr. Quezergue at the Best of the Beat Awards on January 12 (check out the facing page for the bands and restaurants who are participating—and there will be more surprises), as well as a separate event on January 9 at Harrah’s Theater with our best of the Beat Music Business Awards, where we will also celebrate the accomplishments of people and businesses who are behind the scene: Roy Shaw of Gonzales Music (Lifetime Achievement in Music Business) and Wilbert Rawlins, Jr. (Lifetime Achievement in Music Education).
Say this as your mantra: Here’s to a better, happier, healthier, peaceful, prosperous, musically and culturally rich 2008!