No one can accuse the New Orleans music scene of being too formal. Bands start when they're ready -- which is rarely the scheduled time -- and finish when they're done. The weekly gig is even more informal, giving fans a chance to hear the band at its loosest. The shows tend to be spontaneous, with a few ragged edges showing as the bands entertain the audience and themselves.
Steady gigs can be found almost every night of the week. On Monday nights, Papa Grows Funk plays the Maple Leaf Bar, continuing in the spirit of the weekly gigs at the Old Point Bar that launched the band. Originally an excuse for keyboardist John Gros and drummer Russell Batiste Jr. to jam, the gig allowed band to evolve by trying out covers and new material, finding what did and didn't work, and working with guest musicians to come together as a unit. Four and a half years later, Papa Grows Funk is one of New Orleans' funkiest, and the Monday night gigs remain unpredictable. Guests such as Joe Sample, Mike Gordon from Phish, Melvin Sparks and members of Tower of Power have all sat in on shows that, according to Gros, serve as practice. "Everything we take on the road and try to do in our show, we've tried at the Maple Leaf at one time or another," he says.
David Doucet and Al Tharp of BeauSoleil perform most Monday nights at the Columns Hotel, where they play not just Cajun music but blues and folk. Also on Mondays, Lounge Lizards hosts a night of blues with Yvonne Williams and the Juke Joint Players, featuring Continental Drifter Robert Maché on guitar, and d.b.a. hosts contemporary jazz with the Rob Wagner Trio.
Perhaps the granddaddy of weekly gigs is ReBirth Brass Band's Tuesday night show at the Maple Leaf. For years, this traditionally late-starting show has been responsible for Tulane and Loyola students missing their Wednesday morning classes. Here's where many fans discover New Orleans brass bands for the first time. Carrollton Station recently launched a variation on the weekly gig, giving singer-songwriters monthlong residencies hosting musical guests on Tuesday nights. Blair Gimma will be showcased in September.
Weekly gigs may have been invented for someone like Alex McMurray, who plays solo Wednesday nights at the Circle Bar. He has enough musical ideas for three or four bands, so the looseness of the weekly gig allows him to indulge many of them. He might perform side one of the Grease soundtrack, but more often than not, he sings the blues about booze, love and New Orleans, all with a smart mouth, an attitude and a carefully protected soft spot. In the intimacy of the Circle Bar, nights can become free-for-alls as McMurray swaps wisecracks with the regulars.
Weekly gigs are designed to draw people on slower nights, so you are less likely to find them the closer you get to the weekend. For years, the Thursday night show has been Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers' popular standing gig at Vaughan's in the Bywater. These days, it has competition, though. Carrollton Station has booked Twangorama for a couple of three-month stands for Thursday nights, and though the band is taking September off, another stand starts up in November. Twangorama -- Phil DeGruy, Cranston Clements and Woodenhead's Jimmy Robinson -- brings three guitars and a lot of taste to what is best described as art rock, though it's art rock with a lot of New Orleans funk and playfulness. Guests including guitarists Brint Anderson, June Yamagishi and the Bonerama Horns help take the sets in unpredictable directions.
James Singleton says everything Johnny Vidacovich does is music, and Vidacovich's Trio, with George Porter Jr. and a revolving door of third members, has been exploring the intersection of funk and jazz improvisation on Thursday nights much of the year at Tipitina's. The gig has moved to the Maple Leaf, but with guests such as June Yamagishi, Nicholas Payton, Robert Walters and Skerik, the evenings remain intelligent and unpredictable.
Friday night, the only true weekly gig is the Treme Brass Band at Donna's Bar and Grill. As is the case for many weekly gigs, a lot of regulars show up. Friday also features some early, happy-hour shows. Grayson Capps and the Stumpknockers perform at Lounge Lizards, where they offer a theatrical take on rural blues. The Friday "Mermaid Garden Party" at the Mermaid Lounge has also developed a following. Starting at 6 p.m. and featuring roots rock acts like the Uptown Plowboys and Alexandra Scott, the Mermaid opens up the backyard for a family-friendly early evening show. Saturday night being Saturday night, it's not a night for weekly gigs, but the week ends (or starts all over again) with the fais do do late Sunday afternoons at Tipitina's, usually with Bruce Daigrepont. Zydeco dancing is cool at Mid City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl, but Daigrepont's longstanding Sunday gig (which he actually began long ago at the Maple Leaf) affords a great opportunity to appreciate the spectacle that is Cajun dancing. The regulars might be more mature and the dance a bit less free-form, but there's the same sense of community that makes the weekly gig special.
- Rick Olivier
- The weekly gig at the Old Point Bar launched Papa Grows Funk, who still uses its weekly show at the Maple Leaf Bar to try out new material.