New Orleans is, and has always been, a city that calls out to artists of all types. Writers, actors, painters, and especially musicians, come here and are reborn in the image of those who were born here in reality; not by imitation, but by the sense of freedom and self discovery that prevails in such a lush Caribbean climate, steeped in all night drinking establishments, a history of cultures, wide and deep, and a sense that life is for living in the moment at hand.
This makes New Orleans the perfect venue for music, not only at festivals such as Voodoo & Jazz Fest, but also in the dive bars, tiny clubs of Frenchman street and for the street performers of Jackson Square.
Thousands come every year to see & hear their favorite artists, acts too big to play together in smaller arenas, or in one night only situations. Twice a year we are host to a stellar group of performers and luminaries, a seemingly unending parade of talent, going on for days.
In the background of these nationally noticed events is a much smaller phenomenon. A small part of downtown New Orleans, just east of the French Quarter, is known as the Marigny/Bywater. These two communities, joined back to back at the Press Street railroad tracks, are an amazing burgeoning art community.
Having lived in this part of town for almost fifteen years, I suppose I got used to seeing artists on bicycles, carrying their tools and canvases under an arm as they peddle down the streets, musicians carrying instruments on backs and baskets, as they head to & from their gigs, rehearsals or street performances.
This small community has grown dramatically over the last decade, spawning a series of galleries, some in reconditioned buildings, previously long out of use, such as the Candle Factory, a huge warehouse and art/performance space, hidden under the Claiborne Street bridge, and L’Art Noir, created in an old store front on St. Claude Avenue. Then there are the home galleries, like the Side Arm Gallery on St. Roch Avenue, or my own loft gallery, The Skull Club, mere blocks away.
This development has led to the creation of the St. Claude Art District, (http://www.scadnola.com/
) an online co-operative of the art spaces and galleries, now garnishing national attention from the likes of Derek Hess & the Andy Warhol Society, as well as international attention created by this Fall’s New Orleans Fringe Festival (http://www.nofringe.org/
At the same time, local musicians have been plying their trade, supporting local recording studio spaces, from the well known Piety Street studio, home of the latest Andre Williams recording, to one of the newer additions, The Rookery Studio, a digital and multi track tape recording facility hidden deep in the Bywater.
I recently produced a short session at the Rookery for a friend, Stix duh Clown, of My Graveyard Jaw, who was joined by his illustrious pal, Ratty Scurvics, of Ratty Scurvics’ Singularity. I met these two wildly creative guys when they played together in Strekin Hobo, some time ago, when I was bartending at the Hi Ho, another St. Claude institution of outsider music and art. In the years that have followed, they’ve worked together and separately in a slew of projects, ranging from My Graveyard Jaw & Singularity, to Ratty’s musical backup of theater productions, written by him & performed live at the Back Yard Ballroom shows.
This is but the tip of the iceberg, however. The new music coming from this community reaches far & wide in terms of influence, method and instrumentation. From the dreamlike poetic musings of Illusion Fields to the house & dance hall reggae & ska of DJ Proppa bear, there is as far flung an approach to this local music scene as any art community has seen.
Local college radio station WTUL often gives voice to new music, and the local Jazz & Heritage station WWOZ prides itself on promoting local talent. It is still difficult, at the best of times, for New American Bands to get themselves heard.
College radio has a particularly different trend in musical listening tastes because, unlike other genres where the fans grow with the music they enjoy, the college listening market constantly turns over as that particular age group arrives and eventually moves on. This makes for a fascinating array of new interests, but can be very challenging for a new band or artist to establish themselves in.
Local Jazz & Heritage Radio, WWOZ, sticks closer to its roots in blues, jazz, R&B and the music that gave New Orleans its name. While there is a wealth of talent, new & old, in this genre, it’s hardly the place for bands like Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship to create a fan base.
Aside from smaller experimental venues, and playing backup at local galleries, only the internet, with its dizzying compilation of independent talent, offers itself as ongoing fertile ground for these artists. Therein lies the rub.
Enter Dan Sheridan, or as we call him in the neighborhood, Dan the Man. I met Dan when he arrived in New Orleans to stay, about the same time that Strekin Hobo was rocking the Hi Ho. In fact, we met at that very club. A long time outsider entrepreneur,
Dan the Man was marketing a thoughtfully freaky brand of clothing, particularly tribal designed screen printed wear, under the name Noomoon. Those who helped out with these endeavors, taking part in an organic growth of neighborly family, became known as the Noomoon Tribe, back in the beginning of the creation of this crew of freaks.
But that was only the beginning.
As Dan would tell it (or at least as he told it to me), so many people from those days assumed that Noomoon Tribe was a band, that one was eventually started, as the promotional machine seemed already in motion. Bringing that momentum from Detroit to New Orleans, Noomoon quickly found a home base, right here in the Marigny, and an ongoing group of willing constituents.
These endeavors grew right along side of the music & art community renaissance that was taking place in these same small neighborhoods. Dan’s Noomoon promotional machine once more came into play.
While music and art fans from around the world know they can come and enjoy the second Saturday of the month gallery openings of the St. Claude Art District, or come to town in mid November for the New Orleans Fringe Festival, it’s only just becoming common knowledge that the Voodoo Music Experience is no longer for name acts only.
This year is the 10th Voodoo Experience Music Ritual, and the 9th for Noomoon. Running it’s own stage, The Land of Nod, Noomoon brings to a huge public audience those underground and outsider musical entities the rest of the world is only just now about to discover.
Located just inside the front gates, aptly placed immediately to the right of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Noomoon Land of Nod stage provides an alternative reality, with two stages, a variety of bands and performers, fire breathers and dancers, tribal style body piercing and suspension, vendors and costumers all quite a bit different than the usual Voodoo fare, last year even including a voodoo ritual to protect New Orleans from hurricane damage, that although may be a leap of faith, may actually have worked to some degree. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
The point is this: New Orleans is a magic city of new tastes and old, of mixed blood and history, of pirates and politicians, churches and vampires, writers and drinkers, many of whom are all one and the same. It is a spicy gumbo of creativity, where musicians & artists of many types and cultures experiment with their canvases and sounds, their processes, their lives. While that may not be for everybody, it’s an amazing thing to watch.
The 10th annual Voodoo Music Experience and Ritual provides that opportunity.
Noomoon’s 9th annual Land of Nod stage takes it the extra mile, loosing local creative madness in a public forum. While many cities have their own music scene, art venues, culture & style, few challenge New Orleans for sheer volume of these things, and so many talents that challenge the perspective we have come to know and accept.
Enjoy Voodoo this year. Take the walk down to the Land of Nod. Stay a while. Make some new friends, enjoy the music, join the Tribe for an afternoon or an evening or both.
Find something new to explore. Find something new inside yourself.
Who knows, you may find yourself on the Land of Nod stage, too, one day.
It’s a place where anything can, and often does, happen.
Pirate & Artist
For details on Noomoon, and the Land of Nod stage, go to:
This year’s performers from the Marigny/BYwater area include:
Ratty Scurvics Singularity
My Graveyard Jaw
Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?
American Disaster Party
DJ Proppa Bear
Hurray for the Riff Raff
White Bitch's Prey Drive