One of the best aspects about the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is the festival that happens outside the Fair Grounds' fences. From late-night shows at assorted venues around town to the afternoon showcases at the Louisiana Music Factory to crawfish boils, house parties and cookouts, there is more music happening here during the week and a half of Jazz Fest than any one person can take in.
In that spirit, one group of Ninth Ward musicians is taking advantage of the fact that Jazz Fest canceled its Thursday date of the second week this year and will present a one-day festival Thursday at The Truck Farm Studios (3020 St. Claude Ave.) called "Chazfest." The event is named after the irrepressible washboard virtuoso "Washboard" Chaz Leary.
Chazfest features a number of bands, most of who were not invited to this year's Jazz Fest. This all-day affair includes Shatzy, Ingrid Lucia, Hot Club of New Orleans, 007, Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove, the Happy Talk Band, Morning 40 Federation, and the Tin Men. Tickets are $17.50 in advance and $20 at the Farm's door.
"The impetus was we were sitting around with Washboard Chaz and whoever else didn't get in, and my wife, Courtney, said that we should go and just play in front of the entrance," says Alex McMurray, guitarist for 007 and the Tin Men and impresario of this event. "And then, just like your mom said, 'Make your own fun.' The Tin Men used to joke about having Chazfest for Washboard Chaz, so we decided to have Chazfest. We're like, 'We'll have a little party.' Originally it was bands who weren't on the Festival (lineup), but some of these bands have been added, so we've lost our purity in that regard."
Since the genesis of the idea, McMurray has been hard at work putting this together. "I'm doing most of the organizing," he states, "but don't let that scare you."
McMurray adds that there is no overarching tone to this gathering: "I mean, the Hot Club of New Orleans and the Morning 40 Federation are very different. All the bands here happen to be my friends. I know these folks socially, and I've played with all of them. I guess it's a reflection of the Frenchmen Street scene or the downtown/Ninth Ward strain."
However, there is something that all the bands have in common in that, in McMurray's words, "It's the middle of the lineup in terms of New Orleans music. It's one cross section. Nobody here is a huge star, but everybody has been around the block many, many times, and they are accomplished musicians. Often they do get the recognition they deserve, but most times they don't."
The bands at Chazfest are not rookies just coming out of Loyola's music department on one end, and they are not the Meters or the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the other. "There is no real commercial push with these guys," McMurray says. "It's music for fun, recreation and certainly to get paid."
Reached on his cell phone having just come back from Europe, Washboard Chaz Leary is also looking forward to the day. "I'm not sure whom I'm playing with aside from the Tin Men," Leary says. "I may play a song with everybody. I think I can do whatever I want. I can streak the stage if I want to."
McMurray also has tentative plans for Leary: "Chaz gets to play with whoever he wants. That's the one caveat. We may also construct a sedan chair for him to carry him around."
Although not intended this way, the lineup reflects another idea of what New Orleans music is. All these bands play New Orleans music and have a connection to what is perceived as New Orleans music, but in the public's eye they are not identified with New Orleans in the same way that, say, the Neville Brothers or Pete Fountain are. These bands are a little below the radar, but also the bands that most New Orleans music scenesters would insist that everybody needs to know about.
"This does present an alternative view of New Orleans music," Leary says. "It's also a good idea to have stuff during the week. There's always stuff at night, but not as much during the day. Let's go eat some food and hear some music all day. That's a good idea. It's a way to make it a nine-, 10-day festival and just go nuts."
However, this is still a reaction to Jazz Fest. Upon further reflection, McMurray says, "We all wanted to play Jazz Fest, but we weren't invited. It's kind of a drag when that happens. We've been there before. We feel like we deserve it. But that's not a diss to Quint Davis and company. I want to extend an offer for Quint to come by. He can have an all-access pass, and we'll get him a special limited-edition tie-dyed T-shirt."
- "It's the middle of the lineup in terms of New Orleans music," says Chazfest organizer/musician Alex McMurray. "Often they do get the recognition they deserve, but most times they don't."