Festival of Friends

The Gretna Heritage Festival isn’t Jazz Fest, and it certainly isn’t Voodoo, either. Kerry Brown wouldn’t have it any other way.

No stranger to the local music circuit, Brown has paid his touring dues—38 years worth—and is putting his musical stripes to good use organizing the 14th Gretna Heritage Fest, which presents music on eight stages October 2-4 in downtown Gretna. “It’s my treat to give back to my local guys who never get a break, and I’m one of them,” he says. “I’m a musician creating a festival for musicians.”

It started as a classic rock festival, Brown booking friends, bandmates and acquaintances who played “old school soul music,” and has since grown increasingly more eclectic in scope.

“Most people wouldn’t put together Allen Toussaint and Chicago,” he says. “Most local promoters wouldn’t dare put Eric Lindell in front of Soul Asylum. I don’t think that way; I try to be totally different.” The rest of this year’s lineup runs the gamut from the Guess Who, Frankie Ford and John Mooney to Los Lonely Boys, country’s Jo Dee Messina and Clarence Carter. The 2009 lineup, however, “brings more meat to the potatoes,” Brown says, boasting long sought-after local bands Cowboy Mouth, Better than Ezra and Meriwether. The acts, which usually attract younger, more alternative crowds, are an indication of the festival’s growth—last year’s event drew an estimated 130,000 people.

“I’ve been doing Chicagos for the last 12 years,” he says. “I can get more big names, but why, when I’ve got Cowboy Mouth right here? They go all around the world and play, but I got ’em right here.”

As a drummer, Brown has shared the stage with many of the bands he has booked in past years, or they know him from his days touring as a substitute drummer with the Allman Brothers Band.

“That’s why they want to come and play for a musician,” he says. “They know the drums are going to be right, the sound’s going to be right, the amps are going to be right. They’re going to get treated properly. Allen Toussaint’s going to get limousines and police escorts, and we’ll bring him in like he’s supposed to be, and that’s what I’m all about.”

Where is there to go from here for the Fest? Brown says he’s excited about branching out to more alternative music, and as far as all of his classic rock contacts go, he’s looking at the Steve Miller Band and ZZ Top for next year—but don’t hold him to that.

And as for Kerry Brown? Look for him onstage behind the drums.