Yes, there are lots of changes happening around town in the music scene lately, and where one door opens (or two, or three, in this case), surely another one is closing somewhere. This week Kermit Ruffins announced, via his booking and public relations agency, Ruby Arts Entertainment, that he is officially discontinuing his famed Thursday night residency at Bywater watering hole, Vaughan’s Lounge.
Ruffins and company have kept the humble bar room, tucked away in the fringes of the Bywater neighborhood on Dauphine Street – just a hop, skip and a jump from the Industrial Canal and the Lower Ninth Ward – jumping with their funky groove into the wee hours every Thursday night for nearly 20 years. It is rare to find someone here who has never gotten loose to the affordable spirits, gritty New Orleans music and authentic soul that was Thursday nights at Vaughan’s. Smoke breaks took place on friendly neighbors’ porches, where anyone with a respectful demeanor and a love for Kermit’s horn were welcome. Dancing was practically a requirement.
Yet, the past couple years have seen several new and fruitful opportunities present themselves to Kermit. Of course, the world gets to watch the Crescent City trumpet king play himself in the acclaimed HBO drama series, Treme, each week for several months of the year. Along with this has come invitations to guest on the Food Network and other major television cooking shows seeking real New Orleans soul food secrets. But the real transition has come with Ruffins’ focus on his business man side of late; though he’s already owned two other local bars over the years (including Sidney’s on St. Bernard Ave), he opened Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy last year (complete with full menu and live music) and is in the process of re-opening the infamous Ernie K. Doe’s Mother-In-Law Lounge, which he also acquired over the past year. Not to mention an offer from could-be re-developer of the New Orleans World Trade Center for him to open the anchor jazz club of the tower.
The demands of running such businesses requires earlier bed time hours, Kermit said, and therefore ceased playing late night gigs months ago. He says he loves rising at dawn and preparing the day’s menu specials for the Speakeasy, and though he still performs regularly about town, including at his own clubs, late nights like those at Vaughan’s are just not in the cards for him anymore. Because Thursday night fans voiced their desire to still hear Kermit there each week, he and Vaughan’s management agreed to move his 10 p.m. night to a 7 p.m. slot over recent months, but the crowd just hasn’t been the same, and the bar decided it was time to simply let a legendary night be just that – a legend.
Ruffins did try to make the earlier shows at Vaughan’s work, but other bookings and business demands have forced him to call on fill-in talent more and more often on Thursdays this summer, and finally determined it was time to close the door on the beloved Vaughan’s era. As of September, Vaughan’s will be presenting other great New Orleans funk, jazz and brass talent on Thursdays. Tonight, for example, is Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet. Kermit will be missed, but Vaughan’s promises to keep the vibe the same.
Meanwhile, we can reminisce in the sounds of Kermit Ruffins, Live at Vaughan’s – of course recorded live, at Vaughan’s in 2006 – courtesy of Basin Street Records, forever.
More Info on Kermit Ruffins here.
More Info on Vaughan’s here.